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Season 11 | Episode 5

Are You Sure?

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A narrow rope bridge (Deniz Sarac/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

This hour, we walk the tightrope between doubt and certainty, and wonder if there's a way to make yourself at home on that razor's edge between definitely...and not so sure.

We meet a geologist whose life is rocked by a crisis of faith, talk to a gambler who's made a name (and millions) by embracing what she can't know, and we relive a series of decisions and convictions that turn one woman's certainty into a deeply troubling question about just how certain is certain enough.

NOTE: This episode contains graphic descriptions of sexual assault and violence.

Rocked by Doubt

In 2010, Lulu Miller was biking across the country, taking some time to clear her head for a new phase of life. And somewhere in Nevada, she ran into a guy named Jeff Viniard who was on a similar journey. They shared the road for two weeks, pedaling hundreds of ...

Comments [64]

Dealing with Doubt

World Series of Poker Champion Annie Duke has made millions playing poker. Her trick? She’s found a way to put a number on what she can and cannot know. She tells us how we might take her math-minded ways away from the card table, and put them to ...

Comments [20]

Reasonable Doubt

A woman faces her own doubt.

Comments [103]

Comments [142]

Rob from Vancouver, Canada

Why was there no criticism towards the biker's wife for essentially leaving purely based on his lack of belief? I found this reasoning pretty insulting, that her belief was more important than companionship with him. But it was instead spun with some heartwarming music as a moral thing to do.

I like Radiolab, but I cringe at people making emotional and irrational decisions and get praised for it. The biker seemed to essentially find his belief through finding something - anything that could be interpretted as divine intervention. None of the circumstances he mentioned were extraordinary, we are simply prone to selection bias. All of this he went through out of the risk of losing the woman he loves.

Dec. 20 2016 02:11 PM
Wendi from Ohio

I do not believe that cyclist regained his belief. I believe his love forced him towards it. That is why he was so unsure.

Dec. 19 2016 02:51 PM
Stacy from Southfield, MI

This is my second time listening to this episode in years. I wish it included updates on the Steven Avery case, including details of the intelligence and mental competence of the nephew.

May. 25 2016 01:57 PM
Ian Daluga from Wisconsin

I think the story about Steven Avery presented here was a bit off. There was no mention made of the skewed sketch presented to Penny by the vengeful Manitowoc County Sheriff's Department that made her so sure in her accusation of Steven.

Feb. 10 2016 03:01 AM
ilgi from Los Angeles

Steven Avery case should be a topic again, after Making a Murder, I feel like there so many other things that needs to be discussed about this case. I am not saying he is innocent or anything but certainly it is deep subject.

Dec. 23 2015 02:56 PM
Jdoe from CA

Time to reassess the Steve Avery case! Go watch Making a Murder on Netflix. He was framed, again!!

Dec. 22 2015 05:29 AM

geez this comment space is a minefield

just look at all those 0/0s

Aug. 05 2015 11:56 PM

Does the average people know so little about statistics?

Jun. 21 2015 06:30 AM

Why are there so many religious talk in Radiolab? Theist people talking about religion is really annoying. Idiots are not interesting.

Jun. 21 2015 06:09 AM
Becky S. Gatsby from Florida

This was quite a thought provoking podcast. The rape one especially played on my feelings. I know it's a very harsh story but it's real life and people really need to realize that things like this may happen.

Apr. 13 2015 08:43 PM
Katniss K. Bond from USA

I didn't think the rape description was that bad. As a victim of sexual abuse, I think it's important for others to recognize this is what it's like.

Apr. 13 2015 07:37 PM
harron68 from Midwest

Surprised that this ep. is being rerun. As stated numerous times in past comments, it is lite on science. It IS one controversial episode, so that may be your reason for running with it. I was disappointed by the wavering faith of the biker and wondered why it was here and not on "This American (Alternative) Lifestyle."
For those beyond faith, all I can add is that though I don't much believe, I can understand that it's a bedrock for many in hard times and still has guiding principles even non-believers use.

Apr. 12 2015 09:18 PM
Baycyd from San Francisco, CA

this comment is for Penney... If I could wave a magic wand, I would help you to reframe your mistaken identification to see that the hair on the back of your neck stood up for a reason. Like other animals, we are hard-wired to recognize danger biologically. It sounds like to me that you instinctively recognized the evil in the criminal that you identified, even though he did not rape you. I think you also recognized that evil every time thereafter when you saw his picture. Perhaps you also recognized that he had the capacity to rape and kill, which he eventually did after he was released from custody. People live and die in character, and your mistaken identification did not turn him into someone he was not going to be anyway. You do no know -- he may have already raped and killed a woman when you identified him, and you cannot know how many other women you saved from a similar fate when your testimony put him where he couldn't hurt any women for 18 years. Rape results in the victim feeling tremendous shame. Please don't transfer the shame you feel from being rape into torturing yourself about having wronged the criminal who raped and killed a woman when he was released from custody. You are not responsible for his evil or for what he did to his victim.

Apr. 12 2015 02:14 AM
Mia Belanger from oviedo, FL

I thought this was interesting because of the biker's story. I relate because I'm not sure where I stand on my religious beliefs. This man wasn't sure if he believed in God. He tried looking for a sign to have faith come back to him. For me, I do believe in a God or higher power, but I don't believe in everything that the Bible says. I look at the bible as a source of advice or morals. I feel many aspects of religion are questionable. I doubt some aspects of religion, but I am certain in a God.

Apr. 10 2015 05:20 PM
Joy from San Francisco

I never thought of myself as a sensitive listener so didn't think to turn off the radio when the warning aired before the third segment. I really wish I had. The detailed description of assault and rape was really upsetting and unecessary.

Apr. 09 2015 05:58 PM
Sir Lancelot from my room

In regard to the first part of the podcast, I believe there needs to be a balance of the relationship with your spouse and the individuals life morals. The phrase, everything in moderation, can be used to attack how shallow Morgan really is. A woman that allows her religion to define her is not a woman at all; following strict rules and never thinking outside of those rules can make for your own little prison cell, rather than coming up with your own little rule book and having thoughts separate of the church without bias.

Jan. 19 2015 02:59 PM
Mario from Grand rapids

The worst episode ever, I though radio lab was more secular and free of religious notions without scientific evidence, Instead all I heard was badly set up logic and from the sound of it some of the reporters seam to be bias with religious notions.

Oct. 28 2014 11:07 AM
markalo from fort wanye

i love this podcast alot ya

Aug. 19 2014 06:40 PM
Michele from Pittsburgh, PA

This episode really had an effect on me. I listen to your show regularly and love it, but this episode was on a whole different level for me. Thank you for what you do, great work.

Jun. 24 2014 12:52 PM

to those looking for the song in the ad at about 44-45 mins in...shazam says its Bonobo - Walk in the Sky

May. 07 2014 10:57 AM

I, too, would like to know the name of the music played during the ad in the middle (beginning at 44:12). Anyone know?

May. 06 2014 10:51 PM
Ryan R

Ok, with all this debate about religion here let me say this.

Focussing on the religious aspect of end of the second segment is missing the point entirely. The reason I'm upset about it isn't because of any religious connotation, but because on a show that's meant to seek the truth we're presented with a blatant logical fallacy which is NEVER examined and is simply left as the final word. It's not that it's religious, it's that it's wrong. That's the only betrayal I felt with this episode.

However, I'm not going to stop listening. I love this show and Jad and Robert and the rest of the staff, and I will continue to support them as long as they keep doing what they're doing and don't make a long running habit out of things like the Pascal's Wager issue.

Feb. 09 2014 12:30 PM
Nick W from Whitby, ON

Before I say anything else, let me express my regret that my first comment on the RadioLab site will be a negative one. I think RadioLab has had plenty of great episodes, ranging from educational to funny to moving and everything in between, and I deeply appreciate many of those episodes.

But you know what most of those episodes had, for the most part? At least some tangential relationship to science, mathematics, or at least technology. "Are You Sure?" lacked any of that, other than the briefest mentions of poker statistics and the stats on how many falsely accused people turn to crime once they are released. Similarly, "Blood" doesn't include science in the first two segments and in the final segment really just talks about the pharmaceutical industry, and "Quicksaaaand!" is just some random statistics and wild extrapolations based on Hollywood.

Look, Robert and Jad and all of the producers on this show, I get it. You're not working scientists. I shouldn't expect you to be Carl Sagan. But in the past, you would at least make an attempt to call a neuroscientist when you had a particular human interest story that you wanted to tell. If even one of this episode's segments had talked about how the brain handles certainty/doubt, it would've been much harder to make this criticism. Now it has reached the point where RadioLab is just giving us (excellently produced) human interest stories.

Someone else asked earlier in the comments, and I'll repeat it: how many more episodes like "Are You Sure?" and "Blood" can RadioLab produce while still getting support from the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation?

Oct. 15 2013 04:43 AM

While Pascal's wager might seem theoretically sound he made one pretty bad assumption: Belief vs. not Belief. While it seems fine at first you have to pick apart Belief into "Belief in What?". At that point, while the payout in your words was "infinite", the number of Beliefs are also infinite. There is absolutely no way of knowing (heavy emphasis on the word knowing) which person's belief is the right one. Even a small change in one rule from the one (or many) gods you believe in could damn you to lose everything. What if the deity you worshiped didn't wish to be named? What if even the slightest sound you made offended to the point of damnation? What if you weren't allowed to wear clothes comprised of a combination of fabrics? The point of this is there are infinite numbers of rules and gods which then turns your one or the other choice into a choice of infinite beliefs. With the equation now being Infinite Odds vs. Infinite Payout your cosmic lottery chances just hit an asymptote and will never fall together. So why not just try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations?

Sep. 19 2013 01:48 PM

Pascal tried to solve an unknown by falsely assuming another unknown - that god will reward you for belief and punish you for disbelief. There is nothing scientific about the argument. Funny in the first place, that Pascal could claim to invent such an ancient reason for faith.

Aug. 26 2013 11:40 PM
oliveyang from California

I absolutely love radiolab, however the amount of critical thinking missing from this episode was shocking, especially in the second story. It was progressing as an interesting story about gambling, then at the very end you bring in Pascal's Wager, conduct absolutely no critical analysis, and accept the binary proposition proposed by the guest; Just believe, because if you're wrong, you're damned to hell. I'm not so quick to dismiss the importance of living on this planet without living under repressive theist structures. I live a very decent life without god and on the off chance (no chance in my mind but for the sake of argument) there is one, if I go to hell, then I wouldn't want to believe in that kind of punitive deity anyways. Heck in the catholic church I was raised, I could live the most horrible, heinous life and as long as I genuinely repent before I die I get to enter the "kingdom of god." What a load of crap. Oh and one more thing about "god", "god" is a patriarchal device of control. It's your oppressive, judgmental "father" figure. Go figure.

Aug. 23 2013 11:54 AM

Once again, the old adage "opinions are like buttholes: Everyone has one" rings true here. Thus I might as well register my own. As someone who is riding across the country on a bicycle currently, this story hit deep. I'm stuck in the "Heartland" waiting for parts and, I find, connecting religion with the riding experience, especially in the US, is quite appropriate (I am not Christian). The center of the US is disturbingly Christian, with lots of good people, who are incredibly intolerant of non-white, non-Christian folks generally speaking (can you be a good person and a racist?). To those of you who ONLY focus on the religious aspect of this episode, you are annoying and/or you haven't listened to the rest of the show. In my butthole opinion, it balances rather well with faith, statistics, and perhaps bad luck, although it is overall pretty dark. I liked it. It made me emotional and it pushed me to think about my own choices. Well done RL.

Aug. 08 2013 01:20 PM
Mr. D G

The first story was painful to listen to.
I am so glad I wasn't raised in a religious household. Would I be as helpless as Jeff? As I listen to this guy agonize over his feelings and this decision... I find it simply pathetic. He's not wrestling with a decision, he is unable to make a decision.
"Dude, look at the evidence, use your science you learned, find that there is no evidence supporting a god, realize you need faith or you need to let it go and pretend."
Lots of very successful people pretend, it's not that hard.

Jul. 09 2013 04:04 PM
Amber from 'Mericuh

To those who are worried that this episode of radio lab preaches some religious lesson, I would like to say I don't believe it does. While it is laden with the logic and sentiment of Christian believers, it also concludes with a story about a woman who made profoundly consequential decisions in her life based on gut an logical certainty, only to find that she was wrong.

Jul. 04 2013 05:26 PM
James from portland

So, by your own "logic, Makani Naiá, you are "choosing" to be offended by my post, no? While there are plenty of non-believers who spout hypocrisy and gibberish, something about religion really seems to bring out those two qualities in its adherents and defenders ...

And for the record, Makani, I DO find myths about "Mohamed, Shiva, and The Green Man" JUST as stupid as myths about Jesus. I do not discriminate between them. The core of religious belief will always be rooted in ignorance and superstition, no matter what outer form it takes.

And I couldn't care less about seeing ".. a family being allowed to walk into a church." They can go to church all they want. Just don't push your religious beliefs on other people ... or on National Public Radio.

Jun. 18 2013 04:35 PM
Biko from Tx

Believing in god requires faith not simple expectation of a reward, so if you follow Pascal's methodology then you would end up in hell either way.

Jun. 12 2013 08:06 PM
Nike from NOLA y'all

What a rollercoaster! I bawled like a baby at the point when Steven Avery said "it's over." And then...
You do things to me RadioLab. Best modern storytellers. Big love from New Orleans!

Jun. 12 2013 06:57 PM
Makani Naiá from NC

While I found the rape story disturbing, it's more terrifying to see intolerant haters here. While I am an agnostic, I believe that anyone whose head spins at the mention of "Jesus" does not need an exorcist, perhaps a psychiatrist is in order. It must be a bad day for these militants just to see a family being allowed to walk into a church. I also have a strong feeling that their eyes don't burn with hate if someone mentions Mohamed, Shiva, or The Green Man.
This was my introduction into the world of Radiolab. I shall continue listening to other podcasts, but the commenters, woah, everyone has a voice, not just them. If the show offends them, they may go elsewhere. BTW, being offended is a CHOICE. If a person is not man enough to overlook something they don't agree with, they should totally cut off the world.

Jun. 09 2013 04:59 PM

Cool episode, as always. Another comment about a problem with Pascal's wager. There are an infinite number of possible gods. One divided by infinity is zero. The odds, therefore, don't favor either side.

Jun. 08 2013 09:08 PM
James from Portland, Oregon

I usually love this show but I absolutely HATED the whole "Now he loves Jesus too--It's a miracle!" bit. Seriously, if I wanted to listen to religious indoctrination there are PLENTY of other options available ... why mar a great radio program with that nonsense?

And the whole slant of the story was just aggravating ... if you have a woman and a man who really love each other, but she won't marry him because he doesn't love Jesus as much as she does ... The REALLY miraculous ending to such a story would be if she overcame her own religious rigidity and decided to just marry him anyway because he's a great person and you can be a great person WITHOUT LOVING JESUS.

But no, we're supposed to listen to this and think: "Isn't it amazing that they managed to get married in the end anyway after he embraced her Christian faith?"

What the hell is so special about religious conformity? Who thought this piece was a great fit for Radiolab instead of, say, The Christian Broadcasting Network?

Way to alienate your many non-religious listeners, guys.

Jun. 07 2013 12:49 AM
chris barnett from Bristol UK

another great podcast guys..

tee hee it's interesting though, the US must be so funny / weird to live in, the weight of losing faith in god is so heavy and such a big deal, I mean, WTF!!!!!! usually most 6 - 8 year olds in UK have given up on all those santa claus, Jesus, god etc type characters.. And to think that would ruin your relationship, I mean how conceited is that Megan woman...

But the fact that you guys have to somehow take these guys seriously.. I mean this is a good example of how existential fear plays a big role in all our lives and how we can get totally distracted by what is happening in our own blinkered heads. All those huge life changes, not getting married, splitting up from your girlfriend, real existential pain, and for what? he may as well have been agonising over whether humpty dumpty could be put back together again?!?! That is the real story here; people, I mean human beings, us, will tear their lives apart and worse still someone elses life, because of a silly preoccupation that is obsessively building and building and building in their heads. That is the real story.. what is the biggest epoch creating event that has happened due to human beings silly preoccupations.. for example how do wars start, they are started by men who build up reasons in their minds, and run themselves in circles until they are insane with it, they spend hours, days, weeks, months, years getting thousands, millions of people involved with their ridiculous preoccupations?!?! War, Huh, what is is good for.? the consequences of Jeff losing his religion were relatively minor to other people, he may have ruined his and his fiances life for a while, but imagine how it might have been at another time or for someone else, for example, Charles Darwin. He nearly didn't publish on the origin.. because of his wifes faith!!! just think, I mean eventually someone else would have worked it out, but what a huge game changer that was, all hanging on his preoccupation. So I'm really sorry chaps but the old losing Jeffs faith story was lame, it just doesn't really mean anything to us Brits, it must be a cultural thing, to be honest most of us find it a bit creepy to beleive in god, and we are a free thinking country where if you don't question what is put in front of you then yuo are a bit of an oddball, you guys must get that as scientists - you must question everything right?? and of course you can't question god, faith doesn't stand up to questioning.

I know you live in a religious country as in non secular, so we get it that every now and then, people that we really respect, like you guys, will come out with something like this and we will look on incredulously. You must know however, that when we see / hear it, we are a little dissapointed, a ittle bit of our respect dies, like when a child is dissapointed in a parent, it doesn't happen very often but the parent notices it, and knows that they can never come back from it, never.


Jun. 05 2013 08:57 PM
Mike from Ashland, OR

If you need a better radio show than this should probably make your own. Good luck with that.

Jun. 03 2013 10:27 PM

Explicit description of a the women gave of her rape was unnecessary to carry the story. There is no good reason to rape you listeners with such the vulgar act. It is a crime because it is violent. Hearing the details is a form of violence. It is a public radio and the middle of the afternoon. Poor taste

Jun. 01 2013 10:40 PM
Kevin from Everett Wa.

This is a comment on the story on the Rape case. Avery good reason for her seeing one but get DNA from another. the TWO Rapist worked together, Even in the end he shared his rape with his nephew. Did anyone look into that possibility.

She could have been right all along that is why she had such a strong reaction as she did when she saw him.

Jun. 01 2013 05:08 PM
burgwhich from LA

Wow, a lot of negative energy here today. Pascal's wager and its rebuttals is covered in philosophy 101, no big deal, there is no need to keep knocking down the straw man. No one's brain is getting any bigger. I just like to remind everyone to take it easy, just a radio show. "worst episode ever" really? Besides what else you gonna listen to.

May. 31 2013 04:00 PM
Sioux Robbins from Philadelphia

A very very thought provoking show.... Obviously it touched a nerve of uncertainty with some of your this a hard science show or a touchy feely exploration of heart and mind show? Well done.

May. 24 2013 11:25 AM
Ellesbells from London

such a great show, really enjoyed the story from Lu. Talk radio is ace.

May. 23 2013 12:23 PM

Patsy Cline - Heartaches

May. 22 2013 03:47 PM

Radiolab newbie, really enjoying the shows. Does anyone know the background music in the advert played between 'Dealing with Doubt' and 'Reasonable Doubt'. Thanks.

May. 22 2013 04:37 AM
Earnest Listener from Chapel Hill, NC

I thought the stories in this episode were interesting and moving, but I have come to expect something more from Radiolab - something at least pointing to a rigorous analysis of the topic being discussed. This episode only approached this criterion for one of the three parts: the poker segment. The first segment might have asked about the neurology or psychology of belief or ecstatic experiences. The last segment might have approached the story from the perspective of criminology or other studies instead of sticking with the principals of the case - were the assertions made by the judge at the end true? What do experts studying thousands of cases with rigorous methods have to say about predicting criminal behavior? Even regarding the poker segment, it would have been nice to hear from a professional statistician instead of just a retired psychologist, a career poker player and a sports reporter.

I was happy to hear all of these stories, but I felt at the end that I was no wiser about the ways these questions have been asked and examined by experts in the field. If the "lab" in "Radiolab" goes away, I will still be happy to listen, but I will be sad as well, as there are many brilliant shows on public radio telling stories - but only one Radiolab.

May. 12 2013 10:11 PM
Ellemar from Vancouver, BC

Uuuugh I hate Pascal's Wager. Everytime someone parrots that line, it's just like... how do you even know you're believing in the right god? You're betting on their being one god, the Christian God. But if you're worshipping the wrong god, you're screwed just as badly as if you believed in no god.

May. 04 2013 12:47 AM
Bob from Brooklyn, NY

I thought I was in trouble when they put the touchy feely story upfront and RL proved my doubts.

I enjoy RL because the show asks questions and goes searching for answers. This episode opened with a question and spent the remainder of its time navel gazing. Were no neuroscientists answering their phones when you were tossing this episode together? No exploration on why we feel certain or not? In fairness at least the poker story contained slightly more objective core, albeit hidden in a forest of fluff.

Oh well, they can't all be winners.

May. 01 2013 03:02 PM

Mary Leaky on the Laetoli Footprints in Tanzania that she discovered which demonstrated that bipedalism predated big brains in human ancestry- "At one point,she stops, pauses, turns to the left to glance at some possible threat or irregularity, and then continues to the north. This motion, so intensely human, transcends time." Doubt goes deep my friends.

Apr. 30 2013 04:54 PM

I am trying to leave a comment for the "Are You Sure" episode but the links led me here. I downloaded it as a podcast from itunes. There was NO WARNING about the content. I fell asleep before the third story began so when I woke up I kept listening and got to the part about Theresa. Geez!!! I never would have listened if I had known what was coming. I see here on the website there is a warning about the content but as I said, the summary in itunes gives no indication. I am in a bit of a fragile state because my partner of 25 years died after an accident last week and now I have this disturbing image from your radio show. I hope someone at Radiolab figures out how to put warnings in the itunes podcast summaries. I think this was an oversight so please give your listeners a choice.

Apr. 25 2013 12:46 PM
Anastasia from Toronto

This episode was my introduction to RadioLab and my God, what an episode to begin with.

Based on the comments above, it seems many listeners were irritated by the fact that these anecdotes explored the human condition and the metaphysical aspects of life moreso than the hard science behind it. Fair enough.

Truthfully, I didn't have that expectation coming into this, that it would be a science podcast. I was simply told I HAD to listen to the show and that it would make each day seem a little more amazing.

And it has. And let me assure you, this episode is still my favourite of all. The one I found most profound (although the others have been fascinating as well, like Colours and Fact of the Matter). I actually found myself sitting in my parking lot to finish listening to the third story in 'Are Your Sure?' in complete, solitary silence.

Love the show. I'm a complete convert. Thank you for feeding the curiosity within.

Apr. 25 2013 12:44 PM
Nic Morgan from Toronto, Canada

I still can't shake the feeling that Rocked by Doubt was a prank on your listeners or something. "Credulity Lab"? "Radio Jesus!"?

What made RadioLab so great was it's firm grounding in science... I don't even know where to begin with this story. Then you follow this with this that TJ & Dave nonsense? What happened to this show? You guys were amazing, but after these two episodes, what's next? An episode on the love lives of Ghost Whisperers? How about a story making the case for Homeopathic vaccines?

If you want to change your format and get away from science, at least do your listeners the favour of changing your name, and give the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation their money back. Public understanding of science... not so much lately.

Apr. 17 2013 03:22 PM

I think this episode needs a far bigger trigger warning on it.

Apr. 15 2013 06:47 PM

I was 90 seconds into this episode and I remember thinking "this could be the greatest radiolab episode ever". Seriously, I went back and looked at the time. It was just after the musicality of certainty and doubt examples.

I listen on my ipod while I ride the bus, and after the first segment I just had to shut it off so I could think about it for the rest of the trip. It wasn't until the next day that I listened to the final two segments, and I'm certain this is one of my all time favorite episodes --which is why I'm writing today.

When I decided to write, I planned to say that if I had heard this episode a couple weeks ago, I might have voted for RadioLab over ThisAmericanLife. But on reflection, I think the reason this episode was so compelling is because it was full of stories that I easily could have heard on TAL. So, sorry but my votes stand.

I would love to hear more segments like the introduction. And I just noticed I never listened to "Musical Language" from 2007, so that will be in the queue for the ride home from work tomorrow.

Apr. 14 2013 03:03 PM
Jared from Vancouver

I can't fault Radiolab for making this episode, it's just that I listen to the show for interesting science topics explained in a manner I can understand. So when the show switches like this I find it jarring. Still, Radiolab started with a look at a more human level (I think the first episode was something about jobs that are outdated and no longer necessary?) so a transformation might be in the works. I'd just like to know if I can expect this in the future or not.

Part of me wants to encourage Jad and Robert to take this where they may, but the other part of me wants them to entertain and inform me like they used to. Regardless, I'll keep listening, and hoping!

Apr. 12 2013 07:28 PM
Robert from Minneapolis

Pascal's Wager is utterly flawed. There is a the Wrong God problem: believe in the wrong God and you might wind up in hell. Suppose God is cruel and rewards unbelief and punished belief? We can't rule this out with absolute certainty, and even adding one other possibility throws Pascal's Wager off. Perhaps God doesn't reward unbelief, but does punish those who believe in the wrong God. Or perhaps God punishes those who gamble.

There's also the Wrong Criteria problem. Simple belief in the existence of God may not be enough. James 2:9 says "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." Simple belief clearly isn't enough, otherwise the devils would be rewarded. But Pascal's Wager is contradictory: it predicts BOTH infinite reward and infinite punishment depending on how you set up the scenario.

Consider Heaven's Gate. They believed that if the killed themselves that they would be taken up into Heaven via a comet. If you take Pascal's Wager and in place of "believe in God" you insert "kill yourself", then Pascal's Wager would claim that it is rational to kill yourself. For any criteria you enter - eat a ham sandwich, stand on your head, play bocci ball - Pascal's Wager says you should do that to gain infinite reward and avoid infinite punishment.

Pascal's Wager is simply bad math. There may be good reasons for belief, but Pascal's Wager isn't one of them.

Apr. 11 2013 12:11 PM
Jesse Lester

I've heard of paskel's method, though in a bit different wording.

Apr. 09 2013 07:31 PM

If there is one thing that I have learned in my 52 years of life it is that my beliefs have always got me into trouble. Believing in something puts limits on the universe and sets me up for judging things that I am not qualified to judge. The casual reader will instantly make a judgement about what I just wrote and, through the filter of their beliefs already in place, label my reasoning to be _____________.

I still have opinions and make decisions based upon my best judgement, yet when I question my own pre-conceived beliefs by honestly and fearlessly exploring the depths of my own psyche, I see where most of my beliefs originated. And usually I have adopted the beliefs of others or as a reflection of my environment and culture.

Case in point, this episode makes references to "God." Here in the USA most people think of the christian god and their belief system based around what they have been exposed to. Say the word "God" in a Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, or other culture in various points in history and you will get a wildly divergent set of beliefs.

Giving space to believing, being open to possibilities, being compassionate enough to listen to ideas without defaulting to judgements gives me freedom to make my own decisions about my own life and is loving to myself and my fellow man. Most human conflicts arise from loggerheads of belief systems.

Apr. 09 2013 05:31 PM

I'm just getting back into the show after a couple of years where my podcast listening practices have changed. Actually I'm back because of the NPR March Madness poll and comments therein re the Yellow Rain episode, which I thought was excellent especially in light of subsequent allegations. Anyhoo great show. I'm pretty much a science guy but this episode's exploration of let's call it softer science is an excellent balance.
I have to add most striking for me is the contrast between Penny's in the third portion's open minded reaction to a new (and very terrible) truth and the translator in the "Yellow Rain" episode. All to often we see cases of people exonerated by the courts, often persons with excellent alibis and no history of criminal behavior, quite often racially or in terms of social interactions not like the majority still having to face the condemnation of the victims family and large portions of society at large. I know it's a difficult world we live in and not all wrongful convictions are clear cut but there is a strong human tendency to hold onto beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence, myself included, that I appreciate you exploring.
On the first story, I'm pretty much without religious belief but I also really liked the story of true love confronting immense obstacles and finding a way to get past.
The middle piece about poker is meh? Poker is pretty lame.

Apr. 08 2013 04:43 PM

Wow I'm really surprised nearly all the comments are about the first segment, when the last segment is possibly the most chilling radio I've ever heard. Although I guess there's nothing much to say in response to the third segment beyond "holy crap! wtf??"

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool atheist and I appreciated the first segment. My atheism is in no way threatened by a story about someone else's religious beliefs. I was a little disappointed that he didn't embrace atheism, but I thought it was overall a moving story about a clearly genuine, honest, kind-hearted person struggling with heartfelt doubts, trying to do the right thing. That's a very human experience, and I feel a great deal of respect for his integrity.

Yeah I rolled my eyes at the pascal's wager bit, but radiolab makes me roll my eyes all the time. I listen more for the stories than the science (but I love TAL and wish there were more shows like that, unlike other commenters).

Apr. 08 2013 02:44 PM
Matt from Minneapolis

It's both fascinating and ironic that this episode elicited such numerous "worst episode ever" responses. I was deeply moved by it, and found the progression of stories a very effective vehicle for a trip down the rabbit hole. The lack of "hard science" in comparison to other episodes was more than counter-balanced by the spirit of philosophical inquiry that, for me, very clearly articulated a kind of Radiolab manifesto, absolutely consistent with every show you've broadcast: "question certainty; an answer, no matter how final it seems, is simply the basis for a new set of questions. Doubt is our friend, and because he or she (or it) is often such maddening company, all the more necessary to keep around."

Thank you, and keep up the terrific, provocative work!

Apr. 07 2013 01:33 PM
Mark Woods from Athens, Georgia

Regarding the case of the woman assualted on the beach, I am sure that it was considered that both men actually participated in the assualt, but the physical evidence was only from the one identified by it. He did invite a participant in the later murder, the woman was unconcious for some of the attack, and one wonders if the "Sandman" happened upon the attack in progress... Surely this has been explored, maybe you did not have time to mention it. Love the show. Mark.

Apr. 06 2013 07:44 AM

Worst episode of Radiolab I've ever heard! I've been listening for years, and this was just not up to standards.

The first story especially was beyond boring. These were just not compelling people. Maybe they are interesting to "Lulu" because she's FRIENDS with them, but to the rest of us? Not so much. Where was the editing? Where was the curating?

Also what's with just mentioning Pascal's wager without providing the rebuttal? And why are there HULU advertisements all over the website now??? The only thing I have doubts about now is the future of Radiolab.

I'm really embarrassed by this one. Please step it up guys.

Apr. 05 2013 07:37 PM
willis from Vicksburg, MS

the first segment was lousy. i would have turned off the show had i the opportunity. some random guy lousing his religion does not an interesting story make. likely he "found" religion again just to get back with his girl because he was lonely and down-and-out. this likely possibility, belittled him losing his religion in the first place, which is a typical phenomenon when a bible-belter studies science in college. boooooooo!

Apr. 05 2013 06:01 PM
David from Ireland

I found this episode fascinating, compelling and very moving. Great broadcasting, in fact. That some parts of it might lack scientific examination, or don't conform to some listeners expectations of what Radiolab should be doing, or offer personal interpretations on philosophical ideas in order to illustrate a point within the story, matters not - or should I say, matters not to me.

I wonder if those who criticize have contributed to Radiolab?

Apr. 05 2013 05:33 AM
Matt from Memphis

I have to add that the problem with Pascal's Wager goes far beyond just the false dichotomy of either "no god" or the perverse "God" (posited by many or even most Christians) who will condemn you to eternal torture if you can't be convinced to believe in it. Another huge problem is that it presumes belief is a choice, which is absolutely false. You can choose to profess belief, but whether you actually accept a proposition as true is a matter of whether you find evidence for a proposition convincing. Yet another problem is that the Wager presumes there is no cost to believing something that isn't true. If it turns out there is no "God" but you wasted your one chance of existence beholden to a delusion and basing decisions and values on that assumption, that is an unspeakably tragic consequence. Plus, as far as the false dichotomy, any specific god (including "God" in the wager) is also no more likely than any other hypothetical god. It is just as probable that there is a god of some sort, only it values intellectual honesty and humility as a virtue and regards credulity and believing things for bad evidence as a sin. Therefore the faithful might be in for a load of punishment in the end. You could go on and on with the problems, and that is why many of us found it so annoying as a follow up to Jeff's tale, which on its own probably wouldn't have caused so much annoyance.

Apr. 04 2013 01:22 PM
Judah Koolyk from New York

I generally agree with Alex Stephens that the show was below Radio lab standards.
I would like to add what I consider a very interesting insight into probablities. Consider two scenarios. In the first we have Enveope A and Envelope B. Envelope A has a certain amount of money (any amount, say $10), and Envelope B has either 10 times more or 10 times less (50/50 chance, either $1 or $100). Which should you select? Mathematically, Envelope B is actually worth 5.05 times as much as Envelope B. Over the long haul, if you choose Envelope A you will get $10 every time, but if you select Envelope B yuo will get $100 half the time and $1 half the time, ending up with 5.05 times as much money. Now consider a second scenario. We have two unmarked evelopes, one with 10 times as much money inside as the other. We ask a random person who knows nothing about the envelopes to write an "A" on one and a "B" on the other. We open Envelope A and find money in it (say $10). Now it's true that envelope B has either $1 or $100 in it, but we don't know which. Which should yuo select? How is this different than the first scenario? Think about it! I believe upon refelction it will turn out that teh difference is that in teh second scenario there is not truly a 50/50 chance, it's just that we don't know. Not knowing which of two possibilities doesn't mean it's 50/50, and you can't solve probablity problems (such as whether it's better to believe in G-d) assuming it's 50/50, or assigning any other probabity to the problem. Just because something s either 100% true or 100% false doesn't mean it's 50/50.

Apr. 04 2013 10:55 AM
Sloppy from Stockholm, Sweden

Apparently you have cast doubt upon some of your listeners. I thought it was a solid episode with all the required elements to serve the theme appropriately. Perhaps an addendum of "why people get upset when their perspective of reality is challenged" or "fear of doubt".

Apr. 04 2013 02:14 AM
Alex Stephens from Denver, Colorado

Hello Radiolab! I will be as constructive as I can, but I must express my strong disappointment with the show, "Are You Sure?". After listening to every podcast episode of Radiolab over several years, I can say with confidence this was the worst one.

Why is that? It sounded like a This American Life show. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I expect certain things from Radiolab. I expect to have my worldview widened. I expect fascinating scientific explanations or insights. I expect substance. This show had none of that.

The first bit about the guy doubting God- great, another person of the some billion of us that aren't sure and flip flops around their whole lives. Next up was the gambling. I really anticipated learning something cool about statistics and large probabilities. Instead you delivered a very mediocre run down of simple poker tricks. Lastly the bit about the lady who wasn't sure who were assailant was. Where was the psychologist? Where was the neuro scientist to explain how our brains can be so wrong about what we see and feel? Where was the bigger picture of how that affects the entire nation, culture, and species?

Where was the substance?

Respectfully, I feel like you guys were really lazy with this episode compared to the many dozens of other fantastic ones you previously produced. The other recent show on "Beets" was great! I really enjoyed it because it amazed me, it expanded my idea of how important musical timing is and my interpretation of Beethoven. That's the Radiolab I love.

I'll keep listening of course, and recommending Radiolab to my friends, but more and more I add the caveat "listen to the earlier ones. Radiolab started to get really hit or miss especially with that one titled "Are You Sure?". I don't want another This American Life, I want Radiolab. Please.

Apr. 03 2013 11:57 AM

Loved the show. However, there's a key element to Pascal's wager that was left out of the discussion. Pascal's wager assumes that religion/belief in God is binary. Almost all religions today purport that their version of God is true and all other religions false. So not only do you go to hell if you don't believe in God, but you also go to hell if you believe in the wrong God. So it's not a choice between not believing and believing in God, but not believing and believing in at least a dozen different major religions, any of which (or none) could be right. The odds are not so great.

Apr. 02 2013 06:58 PM

Tough crowd.. Really passionate cynics here.. I would imagine that its impossible to actually get a logically dispassionate response on any topic that even remotely discusses GOD. That's why discussions like that are against rules of "Civilized conversation". You're going to stamp on someone's last nerve regardless of the result..(especially since the general consensus of the show is that its... a "Science Show") So, if the topic of discussion is DOUBT, my guess is talking about GOD is probably never going to illicit generally positive responses.

Personally, I'm glad that even though RadioLab is very capable of tackling science topics deftly (as they often do). They also have the intellectual fortitude (testicular at that) to tackle... dare I say.. spiritual/religious topics... And what's more.. they weren't even dogmatic about it..

Come on.. If doubt is the topic.. then that first segment is more than competently appropriate.. Because its entirely relatable.

Empathy people.... Empathy..

Apr. 02 2013 03:14 PM
Matt from Memphis

As someone who posted criticism earlier about the first story, let me clarify: I don't think that this podcast should be afraid of any topic or that religion/spirituality/subjective experience should never be addressed on this show. Like many I am drawn to this show for its ability to explore the wonder of our universe and the variety of human experience. Even though I am an atheist and a scientist, I don't come here for my fix of raw science and skepticism (I get that through other excellent shows like Skeptics Guide or Reasonable Doubts). I even think that the first segment (Jeff's story) in and of itself wasn't all that bad although it really was more of a TAL piece.

But when you run a segment like that, and then wrap it up with a completely cursory, uncritical recitation of Pascal's Wager, it feels really preachy and lazy. Worse, it really felt like Jad and Robert were editorializing Jeff's story in a really vapid way. Namely, that it is ultimately "better" to cave in like Jeff did. They may not have meant it to come off that way, but it certainly did. To then just shift gears completely and never explore the positive and liberating aspects of doubt was just weak.

Apr. 02 2013 01:53 PM
River from PA

Rationalist here. I found the stories told in this episode compelling. Though Pascal's Wager has fallacies, it also reveals the power of psychological empowerment. Life's complexity has me contemplating my purpose in the bigger picture, perhaps at the cost of getting much done, and it's important to realize happiness doesn't necessarily follow from solid rational convictions...there's a nuance to finding satisfaction in life, that stories like Life of Pi and these real life snapshots capture. Sometime letting go of the critical analysis helps us become more in tune with our a positive emergent state of mind

Apr. 02 2013 12:56 PM
DavidE from Dallas, TX

I don't know what all the hubub is about. Whether you believe in God or not, there's no denying that it's a big part of society therefore it will get talked about once in a while.

While the segment was a little bit of a departure from the usual, I thought it to be hugely thought provoking and even emotional. Remember people, part of science is SOCIOLOGY, nd I would say that this podcast falls into that category.

I enjoyed it.

Apr. 02 2013 10:46 AM
scientific philosopher from absorbing info from the cosmos

Many ideological beliefs or arguments (incl. theism vs. atheism vs. agnosticism) don't significantly improve how the world works (, hide deeper issues (, or cause more problems/waste. Look beyond the words to how things actually work, incl. how words work (see Wittgenstein and the book, Science and Sanity). See how philosophical use of Pascal's Wager can get persons to deconvert themselves:

How to be more Bayesian:
See work by child development researchers, such as Alison Gopnik, on how children are Bayesian, incl. making inferences about effects and about others' preferences.

Unfortunately, psychopaths can make inferences about others and themselves such that they can seem normal and pursue goals while lacking fear or empathy. Research on psychopaths suggests you can't change them by appealing to emotions or consequences to others. What can effectively change a psychopath is still a matter of research, but one tactic that worked to get a psychopath to reveal info about his crimes was to appeal to self-interest and delusions of grandeur. All of which suggest to me that psychopaths have a lot of wrong inferences about themselves being smarter than stupid humans who fail at being selfish, which they wrongly assume humans are. If my hypothesis is correct, then rehabilitation would require changing a psychopath's theories and goals. But they'd still be fearless and unempathetic.

Lulu's relationship w/ rocks reminds me of Simon-Cohen's mentalizing-mechanizing conceptualization of the autism spectrum, w/ autistics being more mechanizing. I think it's overlysimplistic, as it doesn't take into account theory formation. But if Lulu tends to mentalize all sorts of things, then I'll have to adjust my model of brains.

@spacepotato: The vast majority of brain processes (w/ info from & to the body and the rest of the world that it has access to) happen without conscious thinking. So, it's possible someone like Jeff had aha moments (there's psy research on this) where sudden insights generated sensations, which he later consciously interpreted. Seems like he's been more of an extravert (singing a lot, looking for external signs), not introverting much, or directing conscious processing towards examining what goes on in or how to change his mind. An extravert may have a harder time tracking and articulating whatever "intellectual hoops" his brain went through.

Apr. 02 2013 09:05 AM
Isaac from PA

Atheist here. I'm a little surprised by the negative feedback in a lot of these comments from those who want that religion garbage kept out of their RadioLab. Well, I think I disagree.
I was pulling for Jeff to realize that doubt is often much healthier than certainty, and that a woman who wouldn't marry him because he didn't espouse a particular belief will make a dangerous wife. I was disappointed with the outcome, but that does NOT mean that it's unworthy of RadioLab. They didn't say "Jeff was correct to trust abstract feelings rather than logic." They also didn't say, "so clearly Jeff's a delusional idiot." They simply related an interesting story to which an awful lot of people can relate. They allowed the characters of that story to express themselves, and maybe it resonates with you, and maybe it doesn't.
I do agree that the handling of Pascal's wager was sloppy and incomplete, but I have the Skeptic's Guide and the Reality Check when I want a straight-forward, dispassionate look at a topic (both of which I listen to relentlessly).
Part of the reason I listen to RadioLab is because of the way Jad and Robert react when they learn something new or think about an issue in a new way. It's invigorating. I care less that they cover every possible angle of an issue than that present and react to information on more than a pure skeptic level. Engaging emotions and getting a little sloppy or awed is sometimes exactly what even a good skeptic needs.
You probably don't hear enough in the comments from those of us who are consistently enthralled by RadioLab, episode after episode. So I thought I'd drop this note. I think I'll go start back at the first episode for the third time.

Apr. 02 2013 01:39 AM
Jaime from Long Island

Guys don't try to be TAL. You're Radiolab, what people love about the show is how you narrate stories about science and nature (even math). I don't want to give you another atheist rant about how you didn't even ask questions about pascal's wager but please no more god stuff unless it's really noteworthy.

Apr. 02 2013 12:11 AM


Apr. 01 2013 09:04 PM
Andy from USA

The title subject would make for an interesting podcast, but none of the three segments followed the theme. The first segment was, as others have noted, possibly the worst radiolab segment ever. I am certain there are much better stories of religious crisis than a guy who gets cold feet about marriage, is lonely and then goes back to his women under the pretense of having religious doubt. The second segment when it reaches its conclusion has absolutely nothing to do with doubt because as Annie Duke says playing poker is about calculating odds (odds you'll make your hand, pot odds, percentage of chip stack, etc.) and ultimately realizing that doubt is not a factor in Texas hold 'em at all. (BTW, it was annoying that the true nuggets of wisdom that Annie seemed to be dispensing were talked over as the rules of hold em were explained).

The third story was captivating and one worthy or radiolab -- but really didn't address the question of doubt in any insightful way--rather, it addressed the consequences of making wrong decisions, namely guilt and atonement.

In sum, I will have to tell the many, many people who I have turned on to Radiolab to stick with the SPEED and INHERITANCE podcasts (both of which were outstanding) and avoid this one....

Apr. 01 2013 05:10 PM
Brad from Milwaukee, WI

The problem with Pascal's wager is one simple thing. Which god?

Apr. 01 2013 02:54 PM
Edwin Carine from Montclair NJ

In the story about doubt, "Are You Sure", the victim is convinced that the 3rd person in the lineup out of 10 or 11 is the rapist. But I wonder if the actual perpetrator was in that lineup. I might have missed it but it would be important to know if she stopped looking at the men in the lineup because she was so sure, and missed the actual perpetrator, or whether he was not in the lineup.

Mar. 31 2013 09:03 PM
Mav from Yellowknife

Man, tough show. That lead segment was pretty weak - and I'm not even one of these people who wants you to only do science-y stories. There's just no amount of post-game pontificating that was gonna make that dude's cold feet seem profound.

There also seemed to be a some real missed opportunities with the poker segment. That closer was really harrowing and engaging as hell, but with that first story setting the mood it actually took away from what was otherwise a fine piece.

I'm sure you'll knock 'em dead next time.

Mar. 31 2013 07:14 PM

On the about page for Radiolab, it describes the show as follows: “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.”

The “Rocked by Doubt” segment of the show had precious little coverage of curiosity or science; and although the producers might try to argue that the religious material fits into philosophy, that's pretty weak — it's not really about the boundary between philosophy and science. And even as pure philosophy, the crisis of faith of a mainstream American Christian hardly provides the show's listeners with any deep philosophical insights.

If it wasn't about philosophy or science, what was it about? Faith. Which is essentially the antithesis of curiosity, since the dictionary defines it as “1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something. 2. Strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.”

When you have a show that is so heavily dominated by themes of faith and God, you are abandoning the themes that draw many members of the audience to the show. And, when you double down on the Christian themes and cover Pascal's Wager so uncritically, it's just sad — a tiny amount of curiosity would reveal the problems with the argument.

Robert Krulwich's religious take on things is often tough to take in a typical episode, but this episode took things to a whole new level. As the Comic Book guy from the Simpsons would say, WORST EPISODE EVER.

(I would say that the content of this show would better fit the topic area of _This American Life_, except it doesn't rise to the necessary quality level.)

Mar. 31 2013 05:39 PM
Anthony Tufo

Yo, some people are really into this god dude...
I would write a really long comment about how "I don't want religion in my podcasts not advertised as religious," but, I'm not going to pretend I can influence the show. It is probably more affirming for most, when you talk about their god and comment sections are such a poor representation of what your audience actually thinks.
I'll keep listening, love the science stories.

Mar. 30 2013 11:28 PM

@Sarah: if you want science, I suggest listening to a dedicated science podcast, e.g. the Nature magazine podcast, the Guardian science podcast, or the Naked Scientists podcast.

Mar. 30 2013 11:24 PM

Oh Radiolab, this was another episode with almost no science -- just a lot of painful personal stories, with no accompanying discussion or scientific justification. Please put the "lab" back in Radiolab... you're not This American Life! Don't give up good science journalism at a time when it's more critical than ever.

Mar. 30 2013 11:01 PM
greg kaaaay from NY

"There are several definitions for the term agnostic. I use it in the manner of I'm not certain of gods existence or that I'm not a part of two opposing factions i.e. atheists and theists."

But you originally claimed that we have knowledge proving your god's existence. The moment you claim there is knowledge proving your god you cannot be an agnostic or claim to be one. It makes no sense.

"When I made my first post I didn't realize I was making some kind of statement written in stone for time immemorial and that some atheist zealot would respond and I should pick and choose my every word with exact precision. I think I explained it in more detail and corrected any mistakes I made in subsequent posts."

You should have admitted to a mistake earlier and not continue to defend your position that there is scientific evidence and mathematical proof proving your god's existence. Since you are changing your position what is your actual position?

"I think you should visit that research team of physicists and let them know they aren't using math and science. Show em where they went wrong and what not and how to do proper science. Heck you might be able to get a noble prize with your keen intellect."

You just don't listen. You know what you should do? It is you who should contact the scientists who made the hypothesis and ask them if their hypothesis proved the existence of your God. Tell me what they respond to you with.... ok?

Mar. 30 2013 08:27 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

There are several definitions for the term agnostic. I use it in the manner of I'm not certain of gods existence or that I'm not a part of two opposing factions i.e. atheists and theists.

When I made my first post I didn't realize I was making some kind of statement written in stone for time immemorial and that some atheist zealot would respond and I should pick and choose my every word with exact precision. I think I explained it in more detail and corrected any mistakes I made in subsequent posts.

I think you should visit that research team of physicists and let them know they aren't using math and science. Show em where they went wrong and what not and how to do proper science. Heck you might be able to get a noble prize with your keen intellect.

Mar. 30 2013 03:17 PM

I really liked it, as so often happens. Pascal's wager came from out of nowhere, and caught me totally by surprise!

It seems like you guys don't want to quite put your foot in the pool because you know it's full of two kinds of sharks, one of which will either eat you up or leave your show if you come out in favor of one or the other.

Lots of comments, but only one addressed briefly "authentic" belief as a flaw in Pascal's Wager. I learned he himself had this problem, which was a fear that omniscient God, perceiving his devotion as a facade, would not award the prize of eternal life for insincere faith. Isn't faith basically sincere by definition? This touches Ryan's excellent point that it's not a choice. I remember earnestly *wanting* to believe, for years, but never could. Pascal reportedly hoped that he'd create faith by playing at it, like inculcating a habit, but he felt that if he couldn't convince himself, then then the play acting wouldn't be good enough.

Mar. 30 2013 09:51 AM
Stephanie Berry

Please fix your app! Many episodes (like this one) skip at crucial times. (Otherwise, incredible work as always.)

Mar. 29 2013 06:58 PM

I was really perturbed that you guys left Pascal's Wager unchecked. Did it not occur to anyone that, oh yeah, there's more than one alleged god and therefore odds are you're gonna pick the wrong one?

Mar. 29 2013 05:29 PM
Matt from Memphis

Although I thought the poker story and the final piece were very well done, I found the first story extremely depressing. Freeing yourself from indoctrination and false certainty can be very frightening but is also very fulfilling and empowering for many. Jeff was just beginning to find the courage to deal with the world honestly, but ultimately couldn't overcome the emotional manipulation and social pressure from people who can't tolerate uncertainty. This hour never even engaged the positive side of doubt or acknowledged that doubt is also the engine of progress. It allows us to shed bad ideas when they don't conform to reason or evidence and move towards better ones. I thought that maybe the show was headed that way when Pascal's Wager appeared, but then it was just sort of allowed to dangle out there as if it was actually a compelling argument. This is one of the most easily-dismantled, intellectually dishonest concepts ever devised, yet no one bothered to address it. I still think Radiolab is the best show on TV or radio, but this was overall a strange, incomplete, and somewhat disappointing episode

Mar. 29 2013 02:15 PM
ollwenjones from Virginia

Pascal actually _did_ have an intense existential experience of God, which he described as a moment of "fire." He kept a note about it stitched into his coat collar if I remember right.

His wager isn't a philosophical argument for belief really, which is where it gets most of it's abuse (even in this forum). It was a reminder to the people of _his context_ (cultural quasi-Christendom) that God could be too important not to at least consider.

Mar. 29 2013 01:33 PM

Jeff, I know that feel, bro. Growing up in a very religious household, it wasn't until my mid-twenties that I began having serious doubts about the teachings I had been raised to believe as truths. I tried shelving those feelings for several years, grasping for some tangible evidence that would allow me to dismiss the ever-present nagging questions in the back of my mind, without really asking myself: Why?

Until recently, I wasn't even clear myself why I was fighting so hard to believe. Sure, I would venture a majority of people would be eager to have a framework of belief that affords them eternal life/rewards for adopting and following even a rigid set of moral & behavioral guidelines. But for me, that wasn't the real reason I was afraid to admit my faith was slipping. For me, it was the fact that this was the only game I knew - my entire social network and even family dynamic was rooted in a shared belief in God, a shared outlook on the future, and a common "codified" morality. Having and voicing any opinions outside or in conflict with that framework was taboo - "lack of faith", doubt, rather than a tool to more closely examine the validity of your own beliefs, was instead viewed as diseased thinking, and owning to having doubts meant a degree of social quarantine. This was, in retrospect the prevailing factor for my hesitation, knowing that admitting to having serious doubts, doubts which weren't going away by wishful thinking, would in the end lead to irrevocable alterations in the relationships I had with my closest friends and immediate family. It wasn't so much God I was afraid to let go of, it was them.

I feel bad for Jeff - I strongly suspect his doubts aren't gone, or even substantially changed for that matter. He had a choice - burying how he honestly felt or losing forever the social support and intimate relationship which marriage offered. Again, whatever views he was willing to espouse in order to hold on to his fiancee, I imagine he will continue to carry those conflicts within him, with, like myself, no good way of bringing them to a satisfyingly final resolution.

*The above statements represents the individual, highly subjective views of one human being.

Mar. 29 2013 12:14 PM
Jerry from America

Problem with Pascal and Divine Probability:

I here by claim that my god, who is known as "The One-Upper", is one peg more powerful than any other god. And that he will punish you for eternity plus 1 for not believing in him.

even though my declaration is ludicrous, isn't it a better bet to believe than not?

Mar. 29 2013 06:47 AM
Geoff from Ohio

Dear Radiolab,
I have been a huge proponent of yours since I discovered you six years ago. I have donated to the show, burned and distributed CDs for my friends, and I constantly bug the producers at my local NPR station to have you as a regular feature. I defended your position on "yellow rain." I waited for how you would respond to the Jonah Lehrer situation. I rejoiced in what I hoped was your return to glory in "Solid as a Rock" and "Bliss"

My proselytizing ends with this sad episode.

"Rocked by Doubt" sounds like the audiobook for "Chicken Soup for the Doubting Christian's Soul" mixed with the worst of "This American Life (TAL)." I love TAL for its ability to recognize a mistake and correct it clearly and loudly in the same forum as its stories.

You clearly have lost your voice, and I have lost my love for Radiolab.

Mar. 28 2013 08:24 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

@jim g

"How can I even have a conversation with you when you don't even understand simple concepts like hypothesis, theory or evidence because you seem to be blinded by your faith that god doesn't exist."

Not sure if serious. Your post have clearly shown to me and other who got involved into responding to your comments that it is you who has no idea about these terms nor you have any idea what the hypothesis presented in the linked articles actually claim and try to prove. It's funny because I have not even made a claim that god does not exist. I'll be honest with you , I don't believe god exists. I will wait for evidence before I start believing in that claim. Therefore I choose to stay on the fence and no I am not blinded by SKEPTICISM. You on the other hand are using FAITH to believe in your god since you still haven't shown to me the mathematical proof or other scientific evidence for his existence you claimed you know of and base your belief on. You clearly implied that unlike other believers you don't believe on faith you believe thanks to evidence and math yet you failed to provide this evidence.

"I consider myself an Agnostic whereas you obviously consider yourself an Atheist. Talking with you is as bad as talking with some extreme bible thumper."

Wow, another 2 terms you have no idea what they mean. You call yourself agnostic yet you claim to believe in God but not on faith which contradicts the definition of agnosticism itself which is that it is the view that the existence or non-existence of any deity is unknown and possibly unknowable. If that's the case why do you claim YOU ACTUALLY have knowledge that determined that your beliefs are justified as you claimed in the original post. You made a claim that your beliefs are based on math and science yet an agnostic states that the knowledge to determine if god exists is unknown or unknowable. SO WHAT IS IT? You got no idea what you are talking about.

Oh , talking to an atheist who does not believe in GOD because he finds the current claims about the existence of Gods unsupported by evidence is like talking to a bible thumper.. interesting.. My skepticism bothers you that much?

Mar. 28 2013 05:46 PM
gregkaaay from NY

@jim g

"You asked for a theory I gave it to you, actually before you even posted your first comment."

No you did not and that is why I have repeatedly told you to research the actual terms , hypothesis, theory, law. Yet you keep making the same mistakes showing me repeatedly that you got no clue what you are talking about , yet you want to argue about it. Please, once again, research the actual terms.

"By your logic all scientific theories are based on faith as none of them can be proven. I can't prove that god exists anymore than I or anyone for that matter can prove the big bang theory or the theory of evolution. I never claimed to have proof of the existence of god or even evidence of the existence of god."

Seriously, I am lost for words. You keep repeating nonsense, you have no idea what the difference is between a theory and a hypothesis. No wonder you don't realize your belief is based on faith.

" I just stated that based on math on science I believe that there may be some sort of god. Evidently that was treading upon your sacred cow and sent you into zealot mode. You seem to have some kind of strange "math and science belongs to atheists ahhhhhhhhh!" reaction."

That is not what your original claim was. You clearly stated that your belief is based on mathematics and scientific evidence. GO BACK AND REREAD YOUR FIRST POST. There was no MAYBE in your statement which you have now added to it.

So are you now claiming that there is no evidence from science and math that supports the idea that the universe is created and that your belief is based on faith? Because if you were honest that's exactly what you should now claim. And no, I do not think science belongs to atheists, what does atheism have to do with this? It's all about evidence in support of your claim. Either you have it or not. You originally claimed you do, I'm still waiting for it, and now you claim MAYBE..

Mar. 28 2013 05:45 PM

I don't know.. I actually thought that this podcast was incredibly impactful.. It was to me, really excellent.
Why.. Because it reveals a universal truth - that doubt is pretty much inevitable.. And even if you go through the rigors of probabilistic estimation you're always going to be subject to chance (or a "bad beat" according to poker professionals).
Even the best, most roboticallly spocklike decisions can have unhappy endings. Everyone would like to have ultimate control over what happens but ultimately, we only have measure of control. We just don't have as much control over what the outcomes are even if our decisions are perfectly planned out.

My take on this is that, you just have to make decisions the best you can - and then you have to learn to be comfortable with the result, regardless of the outcome OR.. Just simply learn from it in order to make better decisions in the future..
Its all you can do really because no human being is perfect and even if a perfect human existed today, he/she has no control over causalities ultimate result once the decision is already made (Ok.. so I repeated myself).

I guess... you just need to roll with the punches.. so to speak..

Mar. 28 2013 03:29 PM


Welcome to science journalism being terrible. This is not a theory in the scientific sense. A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of knowledge that has been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.

It's a theory in the "I've got a hunch" sense. It's a hypothesis, a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. And it can't even be considered a scientific hypothesis because it is not falsifiable. If something is falsifiable, then there is the capacity to prove that explanation is not correct.

The article suggests that we might be able to simulate a universe if we had enough computing power. If this turns out to be true, then the POSSIBILITY that our universe is simulated remains. If we fail to simulate a universe, then the POSSIBILITY that our universe is simulated still remains because maybe we just don't have enough computers yet. No matter what the result is, this exercise can say nothing about whether the universe we actually live in is a simulation or not. Only whether it is possible, and no conclusions can be made there either.

Now, go ahead and call me a fundamentalist because I prefer to use scientific definitions in a scientific discussion, troll.

Mar. 28 2013 03:24 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

You asked for a theory I gave it to you, actually before you even posted your first comment.

"Scientists test new theory"

Next you wanted evidence and that was mentioned in the links also.
"Now a team of researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany led by Silas Beane say they have evidence this may be true."

By your logic all scientific theories are based on faith as none of them can be proven. I can't prove that god exists anymore than I or anyone for that matter can prove the big bang theory or the theory of evolution. I never claimed to have proof of the existence of god or even evidence of the existence of god.

I just stated that based on math on science I believe that there may be some sort of god. Evidently that was treading upon your sacred cow and sent you into zealot mode. You seem to have some kind of strange "math and science belongs to atheists ahhhhhhhhh!" reaction.

How can I even have a conversation with you when you don't even understand simple concepts like hypothesis, theory or evidence because you seem to be blinded by your faith that god doesn't exist.

I consider myself an Agnostic whereas you obviously consider yourself an Atheist. Talking with you is as bad as talking with some extreme bible thumper.

Mar. 28 2013 02:05 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

@Jim Gonzales,

Here you go I found the article I mentioned before , which comes with an opposite conclusion to your articles. Does this article prove anything? No, do yours? No. Articles like these are full of speculations based on some mathematical hypotheses. Conclusions like "Universe is a simulation" or "Universe isn't a simulation" are bogus and unvalidated until the evidence is actually there to show us the conclusion. Obviously it's still a debate and there is no proof that the universe is a simulation, therefore your belief is a belief based on faith not on evidence. There is nothing else to debate here. You are free to use faith to believe in whatever it is, but stop making claims that your belief in god is based on mathematics and scientific evidence cause it isn't.

Mar. 28 2013 12:26 PM
gregkaaay from NY

"Martin Savage, a physicist at the University of Washington, thinks we can't discount the idea. In fact, he and two colleagues (Silas Beane and Zohreh Davoudi) published a paper in November 2012 exploring the possibility."

Ok so physicists think that we can't discount the idea, NO SHIT we can't discount Russell's teapot idea as well. One cannot falsify an unfalsifiable claim. These physicists are exploring the possibility. Go ahead explore all you want I'm all for it. BUT you make claims that there actually is a mathematical proof and scientific evidence proving your belief in existence of god is justified and here is where you fail. Your links don't provide any of the proofs you speak of.

"Physicists say they may have evidence that the universe is a computer simulation."

Call me when they say they do have. I have heard may have too many times to take any of these claims seriously. Once again, this is no proof or scientific evidence for you claim.

What you are doing is jumping into beliefs without actually supporting evidence. It's like when people claim that since scientists calculated that life on other planets is quite possible and our universe may even be abundant with life therefore crop circles must be a result of visiting us alien civilization. Nice fallacy.

Mar. 28 2013 11:47 AM
gregkaaay from NY

"Just admit it you are as much a religious zealot as any holy roller. It wouldn't matter what theories or evidence I posted you wouldn't even consider any of it as possible because it doesn't fit your own preconceived notions."

I tried being nice with you but you keep spewing nonsense and accusing me being a "religious zealot". How is skepticism a religious zealotism? please explain? And let's be honest here you have yet to present any theory or evidence that supports your claim. You keep repeating this idiotic mantra that you are providing scientific evidence and mathematical proof that your god exists yet all you have linked are speculative articles based on some unsupported hypotheses.

"I mean look at how you squirm and bend over backwards making absurd statements like its not evidence until it becomes conclusive. You make conclusions from evidence you don't make evidence from conclusion its completely absurd."

You obviously don't know what mathematical proof or scientific hypothesis or a theory are. Read a science for dummies book and then come back and tell me if you can figure out where your claims fail.

"Scientific theories can't be proven to be true. All of them "may be true". For example its impossible to prove that the big bang theory is true. There are a lot ifs and maybes in the big bang theory."

Do yourself a favor and research the following terms. Scientific theory, hypothesis, and law. Btw. I got no idea why are you bringing up the theory of big bang, I have yet to receive a link from you to a theory that concludes that the universe was created by someone. All you have done is posted idiotic quotes one of which I demonstrated to be actually opposite to what the person who supposedly stated it thinks. Then you lined some article full of speculation as if it's the evidence for the universe being a computer simulation. You really don't get it....

Mar. 28 2013 11:33 AM
Eli from 39211 Mississippi

I was disappointed in this episode. I thought it would investigate doubt and decision making. Some people can make decisions confidently, others get stuck in an endless cycle of weighing the doubts. Wouldn't it be interesting to look into that? Instead you told three stories of people dealing with doubt and left it at that.

There are too many story telling radio shows out there already, please stick to your format of digging into topics, bringing science into it, and teaching me something.

Thank you for putting hard work into this otherwise excellent program.

Mar. 28 2013 11:14 AM
Ryan from Studio City

Very disappointing that you left Pascal's Wager unchallenged. It's an old idea that has long since been debunked. Belief alone won't save you. According to the majority of religions, you must believe in *their* god or face eternal damnation. Therefore, "playing the odds" is impossible. As soon as you pick a god to believe in, all the other gods are standing by to send you to Hell. And of course, even beyond that, Pascal's Wager begins with the premise that belief in the Almighty is a choice, which your own segment demonstrated is clearly not. The man in the story lost his faith through no choice of his own.

Mar. 28 2013 10:12 AM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

Just admit it you are as much a religious zealot as any holy roller. It wouldn't matter what theories or evidence I posted you wouldn't even consider any of it as possible because it doesn't fit your own preconceived notions.

I mean look at how you squirm and bend over backwards making absurd statements like its not evidence until it becomes conclusive. You make conclusions from evidence you don't make evidence from conclusion its completely absurd.

Scientific theories can't be proven to be true. All of them "may be true". For example its impossible to prove that the big bang theory is true. There are a lot ifs and maybes in the big bang theory.

I believe the big bang theory is true based on math and science. Other people would disagree and say the big bang theory isn't true. It can never be proven to be true it can only be stated it may be true. One can only give evidence that it might be so not that is so.

I think Einstein said it best:
"No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."

This episode is title "Are you sure?" When it comes to scientific theories you can never truly be sure. I think they should add a segment to this episode on the subject.

Mar. 28 2013 09:32 AM

spacepotato, you said it perfectly! I couldn't express it as well as you could, but that was exactly how I felt about the first story in this episode. We should never deny anyone the right to believe in anything they want and should always be respectful and civil to each other, but I felt so sad for the guy in the story who seemed to have no logical or rational approach in resolving such a big question in life. Everything in his process rested on weird momentary feelings and random events like meeting and talking to someone. And there's so much unfair social and environmental pressure to believe in God, especially from the woman he loves.

I know the story ended on a note of doubt, we're left with the feeling that he's not actually convinced about God, but seems to have just shrugged, accepted it and just got on with the wedding and life. But that just made it all the more depressing. There's good doubt and bad doubt, but this is just plain giving up.

Mar. 28 2013 06:33 AM

"I never said anything about scientific evidence of gods existence. I just said I believe there may be some sort of god based on math and science."


"I never said anything about scientific evidence of gods existence. I just said I believe there may be some sort of god based on math and science."

... "I never said anything about scientific evidence of gods existence. I just said I believe there may be some sort of god based on math and science."


Mar. 28 2013 01:26 AM
gregkaaaay from NY

What part of "they have evidence" don't you understand? "

Oh gosh, I'm talking to a brick wall... I never argued that a computer simulation is impossible, although some mathematical calculations did actually made the claim that it would most likely be impossible. I don't remember which one but google it and you might find it. I don't claim that the study was false or true. I conclude that that study and your "so called studies" all fall into problems because these probability games are based on made up circumstances and many unknowns. It's a lot of "if" , "maybe", etc. And read the final statement in that quote. "say they have evidence this may be true". Another maybe. Until it becomes conclusive it is NOT AN EVIDENCE as you seem to conclude. You ask " What part of they have evidence" don't you understand. hmmmmmmmmm let me think... the part it states "may be true". It's quite clear who here is jumping to faith based conclusions and it isn't me.

"You can disagree with the article and the team of researchers if you want but you can't make the claim that my belief isn't based on math and science any more than you can say that their claim isn't based on math and science."

Seriously? Every unsupported hypothesis that hasn't been confirmed to be true out there is evidence and mathematical proof all of the sudden? You need to learn a bit more about science and mathematics and stop jumping into faith based conclusions.

Mar. 27 2013 11:55 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

@Jim Gonzales

"You said "You are using faith to believe in some God, not actual mathematical proofs or scientific theories". I gave a link with a theory in it. It was in my very first post and you ignored it. You didn't even attempt to read it obviously. You seem to be offended by the very fact that my belief is based on math and science like a religious zealot."

I don't have a full day for sitting and researching every link you copy and paste here. You linked me to an article that is full of speculations based on a hypothesis. I don't have time to read it because I have a busy life and a 2 year old which requires plenty of time. The reason why I am not taking it seriously is because I have read other research papers which proposed the opposite conclusions. Scientists have plenty of hypotheses at this moment but no theory about universe being a computer simulation. When we get there I will be interested to read that. And no, your belief is not based on math and science it is based on faith. You pull out conclusions about existence of god without actually having mathematical proof nor any scientific evidence proving god's existence. If such proof was available do you think we and thousands of philosophers and scientists would be having debates about the origins of universe? I don't think I need to answer that question, you should be able to figure that out.

"You are a true believer you only believe the things that reinforce your own preconceived notions, closed minded and offended by anything that could possibly contradict them. I mean look at the way you try and twist my words like this comment."

I twist your words? Seriously? Why are you being dishonest. Point me into the words I have twisted and turned?

"I never said anything about scientific evidence of gods existence. I just said I believe there may be some sort of god based on math and science. The article I linked is a perfect example."

Let the readers decide if I am twisting the words are you now backing away from your original claim. This is what you have originally claimed.

"There are some of us that believe in the existence of a god of some sort BASED ON SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS. "

hmmm..... once again, what science and mathematics proves his existence and validates your belief? If you have no proof then your belief is based on FAITH not on SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS. Is it that hard to understand this?

"A long-proposed thought experiment, put forward by both philosophers and popular culture, points out that any civilisation of sufficient size and intelligence would eventually create a simulation universe if such a thing were possible.And since there would therefore be many more simulations (within simulations, within simulations) than real universes, it is therefore more likely than not that our world is artificial.Now a team of researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany led by Silas Beane say they have evidence this may be true."

Mar. 27 2013 11:55 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

I know I said I wouldn't but a few more comments since I'm sitting at home bored.

You said "You are using faith to believe in some God, not actual mathematical proofs or scientific theories". I gave a link with a theory in it. It was in my very first post and you ignored it. You didn't even attempt to read it obviously. You seem to be offended by the very fact that my belief is based on math and science like a religious zealot.

You are a true believer you only believe the things that reinforce your own preconceived notions, closed minded and offended by anything that could possibly contradict them. I mean look at the way you try and twist my words like this comment.

"stop claiming that you unlike other believers actually believe in existence of god because there is scientific evidence and mathematical proof for his/her/it's existence."

I never said anything about scientific evidence of gods existence. I just said I believe there may be some sort of god based on math and science. The article I linked is a perfect example.

"A long-proposed thought experiment, put forward by both philosophers and popular culture, points out that any civilisation of sufficient size and intelligence would eventually create a simulation universe if such a thing were possible.

And since there would therefore be many more simulations (within simulations, within simulations) than real universes, it is therefore more likely than not that our world is artificial.

Now a team of researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany led by Silas Beane say they have evidence this may be true."

What part of "they have evidence" don't you understand? You can disagree with the article and the team of researchers if you want but you can't make the claim that my belief isn't based on math and science any more than you can say that their claim isn't based on math and science.

Mar. 27 2013 11:23 PM
Wygrif from Minneapolis, MN

Guys, I really like the show but you can't just throw out Pascal's wager in that kinda half baked way. Either consider some of the counter-arguments, or leave it alone.

Mar. 27 2013 11:13 PM

The last story was interesting, since we are talking about doubt. The first one was so difficult to get through because it was so obnoxious.

First, there's nothing inherently bad or good about object being catalogued as "organic" or "inorganic." It just is. Just because Lulu really really wants rocks to be alive, it doesn't mean that you can use any excuse to make them sound alive. Thank Odin rocks don't have googly eyes or we would never hear the end of it.

Second, I found nothing I could relate to in Jeff's story. I can see that losing faith is extremely painful in many levels. A lot of people lose their social ties to family and friends because they stopped believing in their religion. But I am really hard pressed to believe that someone lost their lifelong view on how the universe works just because of a pressure in their stomach, and then regained it after another pressure in the sternum? Is he sure it wasn't just indigestion or something the pastor fed him? There had to be several intellectual hoops Jeff went through, before reaching to that life changing conclusion. That we don't hear them, if the case is that they WERE there, is really deceptive and manipulative. And if they weren't in the first place, then I find it extremely weak. Then I wonder about what kind of people we're dealing with here. Not to mention Jeff's fiancee leaving him over his religious position. This whole story sounded like something you read from a Church tract. It's trying to preach me into a position of sympathy, but it's resoundingly losing. I don't buy it. I hope Jeff finds peace within his head about what he should believe or not believe, and not because he's being pressured to do so.

Mar. 27 2013 09:41 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

"The basic idea is that our universe may be artificial in nature. If it is then you have to ask yourself who or what created it. "

Key word here is maybe, and until evidence that will support that idea comes out then I will ask myself those question. As of today this is nothing but unsupported by science claims.

"If you want to put down the physicists behind the story or disagree go ahead but they are obviously using math and science and its not something I just made up for chuckles."

It isn't about putting anyone down. You can use math and science as much as you want it does not mean that the claims you are proposing are actually supported by that math and scientific evidence. I can make some calculations and make a claim as well but will the math and scientific evidence actually back up my claims or not? In this case and in case of creationists it does not. There have been plenty of calculations on the other side of argument as well showing that the universe we live in cannot be a computer simulation. To me all these computations are rather silly because they use speculative numbers many times pulled out of ass.

"This is the last post I'm making on the subject its just not worth my time or energy to argue with true believers on either side of the argument."

What true believers are you talking about? Let me remind you that you came here and posted the following comment.

"There are some of us that believe in the existence of a god of some sort based on science and mathematic"

I politely asked you what math and scientific evidence is it? You failed to provide me with anything but silly debunked creationist claims and quote mining (at best).

Go ahead and believe in anything you want but please stop claiming that you unlike other believers actually believe in existence of god because there is scientific evidence and mathematical proof for his/her/it's existence. It looks to me that you are unaware that you've made false conclusions about the scientific evidence and mathematical proofs for the god you believe in.

Mar. 27 2013 09:33 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

You obviously didn't even go to the original link I posted.

The basic idea is that our universe may be artificial in nature. If it is then you have to ask yourself who or what created it. The story is very recent and therefore easy to research if you want to. If you want to put down the physicists behind the story or disagree go ahead but they are obviously using math and science and its not something I just made up for chuckles.

This is the last post I'm making on the subject its just not worth my time or energy to argue with true believers on either side of the argument.

Mar. 27 2013 09:10 PM

Jim, I never called you any name other than "Jim". But I can stop if that offends you.

It's true that I don't believe in a god, but I'll have you know that the alternative to your creationist fantasy is science, not atheism. There are a lot of people that believe in God yet also find scientific discovery enlightening. I respect these people. But I don't respect people that try to confuse people with made up numbers and quote mining.

FYI, proteins have a 1:10^65 (ALERT: OBVIOUSLY A MADE UP NUMBER) chance of spontaneously assembling from atoms (as if it worked that way!), and if the universe is 13.77 billion years old (which it is), and if there are 10^22 stars (this is the current low estimate) in the universe, and if our attempt to make protein is made 1.6*10^25 times a second per star, we have a 50% chance of generating a protein by now. 1.6*10^25 might seem like a lot, but you could easily hold a clump of matter with enough molecules in it to do that in the palm of your hand. A planet like earth has that times like a zillion, and molecules can do their work more than once a second. It would not take a high percentage of planets with the right ingredients to make it a virtual certainty that proteins are spontaneously forming somewhere in the universe every second if this 10^65 thing is correct.

But again, there is no scientific basis for this 1:10^65 number and applying it makes no sense when it appears to have no units. It's pretty obviously the work of someone going "I feel like this is virtually impossible! Like 10^65 billionish!"

Again, I don't care if you believe in a god, just please stop repeating pseudoscientific crap in public. You're peeing in the pool.

Mar. 27 2013 08:59 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

Once again you are going by faith. You assume this guy changed his position, I wasn't able to find any of this information anywhere. Can you present any of it? You seem to be finding claim online that support your assumptions about the universe and then go with them never actually researching them. This is the problem with belief in god. All you got is faith and no evidence. Yet you claimed there actually is mathematical and scientific evidence for existence of a creator and I'm still waiting for you to support that claim.

BTW. You can believe in anything you desire but please stop making false claims about evidence and mathematics.

Mar. 27 2013 08:13 PM

The girlfriend of the first story is awful: she prefers to marry someone with her same faith, over marrying someone she loves? Sickens me.

Mar. 27 2013 08:11 PM
mike from ny

nice choice to interview howard and annie - NOT

with 5 minutes of google background checking you would have found they are both pariahs in the poker community for several reason!

Annie pushed UB poker before and after their their big superuser cheating scandal and of course they this site ultimately stole 100% of players money!

Howard was the man behind fulltilt poker and US players still haven't been refunded the money the were scammed out off with his ponzi scheme!

besides being scumbags neither of them are very good at poker - yeah they did well in the game 5 years ago when almost everyone sucked at poker. neither Howard or Annie would stand a chance against today's top players

Mar. 27 2013 08:10 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha


He may have reversed his position at some point. Scientists just like ordinary people sometimes change their minds on a subject. I'm not exactly doing a research paper here.

Mar. 27 2013 08:07 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha


I don't consider myself to have any faith. I don't consider myself to belong to any religion, so I don't have any religion to "stop believing in".

What I find funny is people like yourself that seem to be as fanatical as any religious zealot and resort to name calling. It seems to me your statements sound more like something based on faith.

I mean take your own comments about something being improbable. Sometimes improbable things happen and that is why its improbable and not impossible.

Is the existence of some sort of god impossible or just improbable? I would say your own words back to you "remarkably improbable things happen sometimes".

The topic of this episode is "Are you sure?" evidently you are sure there isn't a god. Some are sure there is. I'm not really sure one way or the other but I find it funny that the people that are sure there is and the people that are sure there isn't always get so upset.

Mar. 27 2013 08:02 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

I was also able to find the following:

"In 1983, he testified at "McLean v. Arkansas" (nicknamed "Scopes II") that creationism has no scientific basis and so should not be taught as science in public schools.[14]"

Seems like the guy isn't a proponent of creationism at all. Additionally here is a transcript from the following case.

Q: Now, you have been explaining why the creation science dual model approach to the teaching of origins of life on this planet is unscientific. Is there any other aspect of the creation science treatment of the origins of life on this planet that is similarly unscientific?

A: Well, I find the use of probabilistic arguments to be somewhat deceptive.

Q: Would you explain what you mean?

A: In general in the creation science literature, they start out by assuming, by making statements about the complexity of living systems. These will generally be fairly accurate statements about the complexity of living systems.

They then proceed on the basis of probabilistic calculations to ask, what is the probability that such a complex system will come about by random. When you do that, you get a vanishingly small probability, and they then assert that therefore life by natural processes is impossible.


A: (Continuing) But the fact of the matter is, we do not know the processes by which life has come about in detail. To do the probabilistic calculations, we would have to know all the kinetic and mechanistic details by which the processes have come about, and, therefore, we would then be able to do the calculations. We are simply lacking the information to do the calculations now, so to present them on the basis of the random model is somewhat deceptive.

Q: Is it also in your view unscientific?

A: Since deception is unscientific, the answer to that is yes.

I got to say it again. You need to start researching your sources and the claims they make. Looks like you fall for a lot of creationist literature. Try something scientific.

Mar. 27 2013 07:40 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

"The universe would have to be trillions of years older, and trillions of times larger, for a protein molecule to have occurred by random chance"

I scanned a lot of internet for the source of this and I was unable to find it. Where is this quote from? Scientific paper? Article? Can you give us the original source? If you pull him up on wiki you will find the following:

"Morowitz's book Energy Flow in Biology laid out his central thesis that "the energy that flows through a system acts to organize that system,"[11] an insight later quoted on the inside front cover of The Last Whole Earth Catalog. He has long been a vigorous proponent of the view that life on earth emerged deterministically from the laws of chemistry and physics,[12] and so believes it highly probable that life exists widely in the universe.[4][13]"

Isn't that funny that this is something quite opposite of what you have quoted. He actually thinks life exists widely in the universe and he does not make say it was created by God on many planets, so obviously something stinks here about your quote.

Mar. 27 2013 07:39 PM

10^65 is obviously a totally made up number that does not reflect the nature of organic chemistry, but we're in a virtually infinite universe that has existed for 13.77 billion of years. There are 200 billion stars in our galaxy and there are about that many galaxies like our own in the universe. With so many chances to succeed, even some remote possibility like 1 in 10^65 becomes inevitable, even if it is a made up number by some guy that obviously has no way of verifying this number. And we live somewhere in this universe (probably out of many, many) where it has happened.

Even if the possibility was 1:10^65 per UNIVERSE, so what? Then perhaps some remarkably improbable thing has happened. Remarkably improbable things happen sometimes. That's why they're called improbable, not impossible.

Whatever Jim, you have your faith and that's nice for you. I do not want you to stop believing in your religion. But please do the world a favor and stop repeating this embarrassing pseudoscientific crap in public.

Mar. 27 2013 06:33 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

Also I'd say there is a lot of debate on the issue and its one of the reasons it would make a good show.

It would be nice to see radiolab go over the issue and interview people and whatnot. I see people debate it all the time and I see good points on both sides.

Mar. 27 2013 06:07 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

A quote from Dr Harold Morowitz a former professor of biophysics at Yale.

"The universe would have to be trillions of years older, and trillions of times larger, for a protein molecule to have occurred by random chance"

Mar. 27 2013 05:50 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

@Jim Gonzales, ohhh gosh.. Good job swallowing nonsense from ID proponents not actual scientists. I love how people try to create computations of events of which they have no idea how they actually happen and what takes for them to happen. I advise you to read the following article.

Mar. 27 2013 05:15 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

@gregkaaaay I would disagree with your comments. Here is a simple example of what I'm talking about using just math:

Mathematicians have said that any event with odds of 10 to the 50th power or over is impossible even within the entire time frame of the supposed billions of years popularly assigned for the age of the universe.

The odds of an average protein molecule coming into existence by chance is 10 to the 65th power. That's just one protein molecule! Even the simplest cell is composed of millions of them.

Mar. 27 2013 04:30 PM

This is the kind of show that keeps me coming back to Radiolab.
Without 'doubt' science and religion would be left with the 'fundamentalists’.
They’d both be a lot less interesting (and a lot more dangerous).

Mar. 27 2013 04:18 PM
gregkaaaay from NY

@Jim Gonzales. "There are some of us that believe in the existence of a god of some sort based on science and mathematics."

As of today there really is no proof from mathematics or science that some type of creator exists. It's all speculations and big "ifs". You can go ahead and jump into a belief in a deistic type of creator using faith. I have no problem with that, but hold your horses Jimmy, claiming that you believe in a deistic god of some sort based on science and mathematics is rather a misguiding statement. You are using faith to believe in some God, not actual mathematical proofs or scientific theories.

Mar. 27 2013 03:33 PM
Kieron from England

I loved the poker bit and the way poker player see the world ... and then you screwed up the pascal's wager bit...

Mar. 27 2013 03:30 PM
Jim Gonzales from Omaha

There are some of us that believe in the existence of a god of some sort based on science and mathematics. I think you should take a look at this at some point. An interesting story I read on this subject recently is the following:

Whether you believe it or not I think it makes for an interesting read.

Mar. 27 2013 03:14 PM

Why didn't you elaborate on pascal's wager?

There's a bigger problem. You're not playing just one infinite pot. There are thousands, endless numbers of infinite pots as far as the eye can see, and you can only win at one of them. They only let you play one.

So how do I decide? Do I play at the Jehovah table or Allah's table or Buddha's table or Lady Luck's table or maybe there's even an god of the atheist's table.

Mar. 27 2013 03:13 PM
D from NY

Come on, folks. Radiolab never claimed to be about "rationality" alone, and if you think it's supposed to be, you clearly haven't been listening enough.

This is Radiolab's description, from this very website:
"Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."

Seems like that should be enough of an answer to your complaints. And don't presume to think that you know what Radiolab's audience is or wants, either. Some of us treasure this show for exactly what the above description says--the blurring of these artificial boundaries. Looking for truth, meaning and wonder in everything the world has to offer.

Mar. 27 2013 12:49 PM

I agree with Jess from London...this was the worst episode of Radiolab I've ever heard.

Your audience is not looking for affirmations of religion, your listeners are mostly trying to escape all that vapidness to a what used to be a little island of rationality...

...but it appears to be sinking.

Mar. 27 2013 11:57 AM
Jess from London

The last segment was really haunting and thought provoking, but the first one was the most disappointing bit of Radiolab I have ever heard (and I love all of Radiolab). I thought this show was about science and rationality, and was really disappointed to hear the story end with a guy deciding to believe in God because he felt 'something' at one particular moment.

I too used to be religious and would interpret every tight feeling in my stomach, any muscle twitch as a sign that God exists. But then I realized I'm just telling myself a story and taking every opportunity I can to confirm it. Come on, I understand the need to have a human interest story but that was just really disappointing.

Mar. 27 2013 10:20 AM

a problem with the odds on god existing is there lots of gods and religions so its not just 2 choices. don't know if that's explained very well

Mar. 27 2013 10:15 AM
gregkaaaay from NY

I usually enjoy your shows but this show was terrible. Annie Duke and Howard Lederer scammed the entire poker community out of a lot of money. There are so many amazing stories of other poker players you could have used but you decided to use people who are disliked with passion in the poker community? Lack of research.

Then you go on with the Pascal's wager. You none of you decided to bring up the criticism that the wager has received? Five minutes of research on the term would and you could have get yourself familiar with responses like the failure as proof, argument from inconsistent revelations, argument from inauthentic belief in bring them up in the show. But no, you leave it as it is fooling the audience into thinking that they should now go on and start believing in GOD. Which God? What if there is a God who will punish you for believing in him and reward you for not believing in him? Oh , that sounds like a silly idea of God? Not much more silly sounding than the God who murders millions of people in a giant flood but he still loves them.

Come on guys. Do the research next time.

Mar. 27 2013 09:37 AM
Andrew from Toronto

Here's a 2 minute compilation of Howard Lederer not being sure about events he was directly involved in:

That could have been the intro guys!

Also, fyi, 'decision strategist' is not a real job. Don't trust the credentials of any poker player who made all their money in the softest (read: easiest) poker era of all time. If you could walk and chew gum in the poker world in 2004 and didn't make at least 6 figures, you were doing something seriously wrong.

I get the family angle but the narrative value you gain from that is negligible compared with the credibility deficit. Why not get Will Ma, who actually teaches a poker class at MIT? Or Mike McDonald, who guest lectures in that class and is generally extremely thoughtful and well-spoken about poker and probabilities? Ditto Phil Galfond.

You guys had a poker enthusiast on your staff and still chose Howard "I stole millions of dollars from depositors or at least was willfully ignorant while it was stolen and put in my bank account" Lederer, and Annie Duke, decision strategist? Questionable decision-making.

Overall a solid episode, I just wish you guys had chose better guests for the poker segment, or at least brought up some of the Lederer corruption/fraud/gross mismanagement issues.

Mar. 27 2013 04:02 AM
Robin Datta from Fresno, CA 93720

The attempt to define a G_d in your podcast is the standard theistic fare.

The most basic level of human awareness is the sensory inputs and their collation and organisation (manas). The next level is the integration with prior experience (chitta): this is the level of “I see/hear …”etc. The next level is the intellect (buddhi), the level of “I know that I know” and “I know that I see/hear” etc. The next level is the “I” (ahankara). None of these are conscious of themselves. They are illuminated by the consciousness filtering down through the various levels. That illumination is ambient and universal, but is without characteristics or content, and cannot therefore be perceived as an object: in the objective sense, it does not exist, and cannot and will not be found. It is the universal substratum of the conditioned experience of limited being. It cannot be “experienced” or “known” by the “I”. Its awareness is manifest only when the “I” is dropped.

That is why both Buddhism and Judaism (Kabbalah) speak of the "Void": Sunyata in Buddhism and Ein Sof in Judaism. Likewise, in non-dual Vedanta, it is referred to as "Inexpressible" (anirvachanya), with the proviso that even that is an attempt at description, an attempt to park it in the realm of objective existence.

Nothing exists in the domain of human cognition except that which it has cooked up from present and past sensory inputs. The world "out there" is a projection served up from that kitchen.

Buddhism refers to the "extinguishing" - nirvana - of the "I", as does non-dual Vedanta (although in this case there is a plethora of terms in addition to nirvana). In both, there is no postulated "G_d": both are non-theistic religions.

It is the Witnessing bird in the Parable of the Two Birds from the Upanishads:

Mar. 27 2013 01:56 AM

Was it really not relevant to mention Howard Lederer's involvement in the Full Tilt Poker collapse of a few years ago? A lot of poker players lost a lot of money! It's about "embracing uncertainty," right?

Mar. 26 2013 07:26 PM
Nando Cuca from London

Just thought I'd share a wonderful scribble I saw in the toilet cubicle at the Tate Modern Museum in London: "Doubt will set you free... ... ... ... Maybe."

Mar. 26 2013 07:15 PM

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