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In Silence

Tuesday, April 07, 2009 - 05:30 PM

Here at Radiolab we explore big ideas and ask big questions to see how the world works.

To do that, we often talk to scientists who are trying to answer those questions by doing experiments and gathering data. But there are some questions that don't give in to experiments and data. And with Easter and Passover around the corner, we decided to take on one of those questions, not through science, but through a story.



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Comments [485]

Tom from Carolina Beach, NC

We all build an ARK in our lives and chose those souls to help and those we silently leave behind. Perhaps the father/son relationship is the most silent of them all but the most understood without words?

Nov. 19 2017 06:19 PM

its surprising how many blind and close minded people can one find on people who identify themselves, as people of "science".

If i may think for yourself for a minute here, this episode was mostly about philosophy, than religion, you all love to question things, why dont you question your ability to question yourself for a minute, here.

Jan. 29 2016 10:10 PM
Moriah from Portland

As an ethnically raised but agnostic Jew, I was deeply moved by your discussion of some of the most troubling questions in the Torah/Bible. I loved that you shed the usual analytical approach and spoke with honesty and depth. I appreciate the show's general focus on science but this piece was incredible.

Oct. 25 2015 06:50 PM

This episode is not about analytical reasoning. It is poetry, an expression of those moments that go beyond words using stories that are central to several prominent world religions. You don't have to be a Christian, Jew, or Muslim to appreciate this.

If this particular podcast were representative of all Radiolab, I would not be interested, but I personally find the variety and experimentation refreshing. It is imperfect, but valuable.

Oct. 15 2015 01:46 PM

Just going back and listening to all the Radio Labs that I have never heard. This is the only one that I have felt was a complete waste of time.

Jun. 09 2015 10:38 AM
David Baker

Years later, I come back here, to this piece, and I share it.

May. 28 2015 10:50 PM


I've never heard the story of Abraham so eloquently retold. "Holy Silence" is a reoccurring and beautiful theme in the Bible. There comes a point where language fails to explain or express the full range of human emotion. One of my favorite stories in the New Testament is when Jesus is approached by the distraught friends and family of Lazarus. When Jesus receives the news, he does not tell them that their friend will be raised from the dead, or that their pain will pass. He simply weeps with them. I don't care if you're a militant atheist or devout believer, anyone can glean wisdom and beauty from these passages.

Thanks again,


Sep. 03 2014 02:27 PM

For a show that is founded on conveying science to the general public, the nature of this episode deeply disturbs me. What bothers me most is the lack of critical examination, the blind acceptance to which Robert blithely spews historical fallacies.

I'm of the firm opinion that religion and science do not have to be mutually exclusive. However, there is no place for the Eurocentric Judeo-Christian version of a "magical man in the sky" in any rational, observationally based discipline.

Furthermore, in the episode "Tell Me A Story", Robert directly contradicts the content of this episode with his plea for science to have a firm voice against the fundamental misconceptions spread by religion. One of his examples is about the nation of Turkey, and how the religious extremists have supplanted the story of creation accepted by the majority of the general public there with their own version of events by providing free textbooks to schools. How is that situation, their fables, any different from the ones portrayed here? Are these fairy tales the only correct version of events, just because you say so? What kind of precedent does that set for science and its place in the world around us?

Jul. 30 2014 04:30 PM
Sarah Grace from London, England

This episode was so incredibly touching; so articulately poetic moreover interesting food for thought and I'm not religious in anyway. Hurrah to Robert, a beautiful piece of writing!

THIS is the reason why I donate to Radiolab, you guys consistently astound me. x

Jul. 09 2014 10:31 AM
pc from Arizona

I enjoy radiolab but this podcast I didn't like very much and you know what? I just didn't listen anymore and went to another podcast. Thanks radiolab for having other podcasts to choose from.

Apr. 28 2014 02:32 PM


Feb. 19 2014 07:31 PM
Kelly from Portland, OR

Nothing I could say other than "thank you" would do justice to how much I loved listening to this (twice in a row, by the way). I am in awe of your superb ability to articulate this very complex and delicate theme. This is one of the best episodes I've heard on Radiolab and I love them all. Thank you so much.

Nov. 26 2013 04:43 PM
Paul from Houston, TX

The Noah story and this Abraham story mirrors the silence of Jesus going to the cross. The cost may be something to consider because God did provide a lamb to keep Isaac to form the nation of Israel. Jesus returned after silence, lashings and death on a cross with thousands of eye witnesses as he ascended into heaven. I think the silence is one aspect of the story not something to get too caught up on.

Nov. 12 2013 01:34 PM
Dana Wang from Ontario, Canada

If sermons were like this, I'd go to church.

Nov. 12 2013 09:15 AM
Keiko from MA

I've been a longtime listener and fan of Radiolab for years now and to this day, this remains my favorite episode (followed closely by the recent 23 Weeks, 6 Days and the older Fetal Consequences). I've now made it a tradition since I first heard In Silence to play it every year during the High Holidays, since it features such a beautiful take on the Akedah (the binding of Isaac).

Thank you for this gorgeous piece.

Sep. 07 2013 10:37 AM

Found the music in an earlier post - way back in 9th April 2009. Hope this is correct; off to find 'Le Tunnel off of Sylvain Chauveau's album Nuage.' HOpe this proves fruitful. Thanks again Robert and it is high time you gave us some more of your poetical wisdom. Don't let the left brain fascist's stop you.

Jul. 15 2013 12:14 PM

I was fortunate to be introduced to radio lab early in its life and quickly downloaded all previous issues. I always wait in anticipation for the next episode and thank you all for the production. I love to reply old favourites while on walks and recently listened again to 'In Silence'. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT THE MUSIC WAS THAT CLOSED THE PIECE? A DEEPLY MOVING MELANCOHLY CELLO - heavenly beautiful and perfectly matched to the subject at hand.
I would love radio lab to further explore the relationship between the metaphysical and the physical world. Francis Collins, that remarkable man who lead the mapping of the human genome cannot be considered anything but one of the foremost scientist's of our era was brave enough to publish 'The Language of God'. There are lots of comments from your anti spiritual/ religious listeners who seem to fear anything outside the 'logic box' - Jad included - yes I am sure 'in silence' was a bit hard for him to handle as heard in the impatient tone of his 'all right' comment in signing off this podcast. Never the less as Collins moves from athiest to Catholic he has a profound understanding of the bridge between these two worlds and it was as a scientist that led to his deep faith. A discourse between the three of you would produce a most thought provoking podcast. Why is an appreciation of the spiritual realm , the invisible, the things we cannot see a subject for such condemnation by so many of you who think you are 'thinkers'? Love, laughter, beauty, joy can not be conclusively measured objectively no matter how hard you try and you can give all the MRI's and explanations butyou can never capture the mystery as Robert knows only too well. Congratulations Robert on your Bravery to show a PC world that 'true religion' is a good and powerful tool for facing the evil and immorality of this world. Peace and love to all....

Jul. 15 2013 09:18 AM
Dongmin Su from San Francisco

Robert Krulwich,
I discovered RadioLab and love it dearly. I recommend it to everyone and to my daughter, who will go to college this fall, 2013. I were about to go to sleep and heard this podcast episode "In Silence" of yours. It deeply troubled me and compelled me to write to you, instead of going to sleep.

I admire your great work in science journalism. It is precisely the reason you shock me, that even a good and intellectual man will try to explain away the horrific cruelty of killing one's own son in such fashion. I love my son and daughters. Any reading of man-made suffering of any kids will enrage me.
Any idea, such as 1+1=2, exist before universe and without universe, are instantly represented when 2 objects are in concerned, or are represented when there are 2 neural excitements. Mao's ideology to call for arms, is much more powerful than if he could physically hold a thousand guns. Yet, however poetic or powerful you want your idea of "purpose" to become, you can not use the idea to override a homo sapien's natural love for his son so as to kill his own son!
Our gene naturally gives our brain the neural wiring of emotion of love, hate, and so on, and the cognitive command of physical objects to do good, bad, and the gray. Our human brain can explore, enjoy, and make use of the endless beautiful physics of this universe and great ideas that are above physical existence. However grandiose and "high purpose" all these are, they shall not override our natural priorities of basic survival, survival of son/relatives, altruism, freedom, fairness, justice, greed, aggression, and so on.
In another word, our gene and our great scientific knowledge already give human many good purposes. I already achieved one of my great human purpose that I understand that the universe has no purpose and it is so beautiful to me and many more people.
Many ideas in religion do contribute to certain kinds of well being as long as it does not impact others, but the close-circle ideas of religion that do not care about contradicting to the physical world and physical brain/emotion had caused great deals of death and suffering throughout the history and now.
This episode was produced in 2009. Will you re-produce the episode in the similar way now, and far away from mine ??
On other notes, I want to dump a lot of good ideas to RadioLab, and hope it can produce more wonderful episodes. Some of the ideas are: transport brain intelligence/emotions via computer/apparatus (to help my descendants), yawning (bridging the voluntary and autonomic nervous systems), how you look, feel, and eat might make your gene better (epigenetics speed up evolution) etc.

Early AM of Jun 28, 2013.

Jun. 28 2013 04:04 AM
Guillermo Puerto from Mexico

I thought RadioLab was about science and reality. I listen to Radiolab for the introspective and philosophical analysis of reality. I don't mind alusions to the soul or the reluctance to accept our chemical identity as sufficiently awesome in itself. But I do mind a whole story based on a Bible reading. Even though the intention was pretty humanistic, I think the Bible reading rather hurt the case Krowlich was trying to make. Better examples coud´ve been found. Real ones. This was a terrible episode and I regret having listened to it; which had never happened before, and hope it doesn't happen again.

Jun. 15 2013 01:46 PM
Mike F

The moment where Radiolab jumped the shark.

May. 31 2013 07:11 PM

For the people who wanted a transcript, I found one here

Apr. 08 2013 06:56 PM

Ever since I discovered Radiolab last year, I've been listening to each and every episode. Going backwards. I am finding that there are more religious undertones in some of the earlier episodes, especially coming from Krulwich.

Krulwich manages to do storytelling beautifully. And basically, one of the reasons why Radiolab is so effective, is that it's storytelling. Especially about subjects which are commonly so dry. This episode is no exception, it's beautifully told.

It is fascinating to see however, what hoops people jump, how we rationalize an immoral story, into something that we can draw respect from. To me it's similar as justifying a loved one's abusive behavior. Or justifying a really grave mistake, in which one's ego cannot accept to yourself or to anyone else.

Again, while the narrative and thought behind the motivations and actions behind God, Abraham and his son are interesting, just as many retold and re-imagined stories and myths, it's better if it remains as fiction.

Mar. 22 2013 12:42 AM
Glenda from Chicago, IL

I love the amount of discussion and comments this show got. For me the poignant part was about how hope is found in silence. Once we stop arguing with reality and accept what is, we make room for hope. There are situations where action is appropriate, and asking questions is certainly worthwhile. But we are all at one time or another beset by problems beyond our control, and that is where this lesson is important.

In this interpretation, this is not a story about morality, about whether Abraham's actions were good or bad. Neither is this a story about blind faith and duty to some imaginary deity. It is about how a moral person (a "good man," in Robert's words) can at times be incredibly overwhelmed by suffering, by the horror that surrounds us every day. And Robert shows us a way, using a biblical story from a faith I don't care for one bit, without asking us to believe in god, or trust in a leader, or accept any kind of faith at all. Robert shows a practical little bit of advice that could work for atheists, and buddhists, and christians, and jews, and agnostics, and pagans, and... all human beings. He shows us the power of hope, and where to find it: in silence.

Keep up the good work, guys, I find your show incredibly enriching.

Feb. 22 2013 04:57 PM
Stephen from Alabama

I recently sold a car that had been a family "extra". It had been passed around and used when other more desirable transport wasn't available. Cleaning the car out for the new owner, I happened upon an old i-pad my daughter had begged off me some years ago. Scrolling through its contents I ran across this podcast. I've listened to it several times, sometimes compelled by the content, other times disturbed by the content. I think that strange dichotomy the very essence of great story telling. Thank you Robert! I would like to point out, "In Silence" has by far the most comments of any RadioLab podcast. The only one that comes close is "Lucy" from 9/19/10

Feb. 14 2013 11:14 PM
BIHAI from China

I see a lot of comments saying that this is a kind of sermon, but it's not at all! Can't you guys sense the anger of Robert when he telling the story?Have not you guys ever completed this podcast at all? You don't have to stick to the end, just listen the series of questions asked by Robert from 23:15 then you will find this is no a sermon at all. And also, Robert said nothing about the angel going down there to stop Abraham killing his innocent son blabla, instead he pictured some details of Isaac's future possible life trying to inspire us to think about the indivual value of a single person, which by the way, is one of the most important senses of worth in the morden history. So I think you misunderstood Robert at all.

Dec. 04 2012 01:13 AM
Bi Hai from China

As a sceptic from a atheistical country, I have to say this podcast really touched me somehow, even made me teary. Thanks a lot Robert, you are the best.

Dec. 04 2012 12:21 AM
Jordan from Ogden, UT

As a Mormon, this podcast was even more significant because one of the beliefs we hold is that Abraham, as a young man, was himself almost sacrificed to the Egyptian gods, only saved by an angel at the last minute who struck down the priest of Pharaoh. The additional depth that must have added to his difficulties must have been profound. I loved your eloquent presentation.

Nov. 14 2012 11:02 AM

So beautiful .So human.

Nov. 06 2012 12:03 PM

I listened to this awhile ago, and was particularly glad I had heard it when I read the first chapter of Erich Auerbach's book Mimesis, called "Odysseus' Scar." It might be of interest to any literarily-inclined listeners (read it here: Auerbach compares the episode of Isaac and Abraham to an episode in the Odyssey to expound on the radically different narrative styles of the two works. Incidentally, Auerbach, a Jew, was exiled from Germany in the '30s and wrote this book in Turkey.

Oct. 12 2012 02:49 PM
Teej from Cincinnati

I appreciate your perspective Robert. While I also found it to be an odd deviation from your regular programming, it wasn't completely unwelcome. As another cranky atheist, I find most of the stories of the bible to be foolish and are unnecessary reading to be a "good" person. Perhaps they're even dangerous as some have pointed out.

However, I think having someone with strong religious beliefs be a part of the show helps to enrich it as it provides a way for me to understand how a religious person deals with ideas that seem to contradict many of his own. It adds color to the show and makes it seem less objective occasionally, which is fine with me. Jad and Robert have differing views but compliment each other very well which is why I keep coming back.

Aug. 31 2012 12:42 PM

to all you science lovers out there that left negative responses: you probably ate the marshmellow.

Aug. 24 2012 01:44 PM

I loved the show. Robert drew me in. Amazing.

Aug. 24 2012 01:31 PM

One mans opinion, told through this beautifully worded story… “I believe”… the storyteller says… “I have to think”… he adds…. An opinion of one man…of what he thought…of what he believed…might have been… assuming the feelings of two men in the bible were filled with a furious roar…filled with questions…”why me?”… “why all those innocent animals?” it is the storytellers own thoughts of what he perceived from the bible…

Aug. 16 2012 10:57 PM

This story teller can really pull in the listener. And the listener, if they don’t understand God will be so absorbed in the story and wowed by the words spoken. But for those who understand God, this story, is just that, a story.

Aug. 16 2012 10:41 PM
Geena from Texas

"Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience."

Point blank.

First of all, it's ignorant to equate Bible stories to a microcosm of religion as a single entity. I doubt I'm wrong when I say that most Radiolab listeners like to think of themselves as open-minded, if not look to Radiolab as a tool to broaden their mind. For those who rejected this episode simply because it's religious, can you not see how that makes your view just as myopic as that of the religious people you oppose?

Since many are quick to reduce Robert to a proselyting Bible thumper, consider this: even though this was a sermon, the way in which Robert treats these Bible stories reminds me more of a literary analysis than a religious inundation. Guess what? Many Bible-based religions take offense to treating the Bible as literature; however, some are able to pick the Bible apart using the tools of philosophy, science, and personal human experience. These are the people you want to have a discussion with, and Robert is one of them. And if you weren't deafened by an unbending disgust for religious discussion, you'd have noticed that Robert didn't end his sermon with a "moral of the story," nor did he give a call to religious action. He merely raised many questions that are applicable to all humans.

Whether or not you ground yourself in morals or don't even believe in the construct of morals, surely you as a human understand the unending influx of questions and the desire to have answers. THAT is Robert's point, whatever route he chose or however long it took him to get there.

Aug. 08 2012 05:37 PM
flip schrameijer from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

"In Silence" is easily the worst episode you have ever made. Here you really hit rock-bottom. I'm a great fan of radio lab, have heard virtually all episodes and many of them more than once. I recommend it and send episodes to many of my friends and have donated several times. All this to say you earned a huge amount of credit with me. However, you managed to use all of it in one go with this brainless, anti-scientific entirely humorless piece of crap. I can never listen to radio lab again with the same trust I did before. I'm thoroughly disillusioned by you. Please tell me you were blackmailed to do this and the lives of your children were at stake.
The only very partial excuse for any of you to think this up in a moment of debilitating madness, is that this person was brought up religiously and as a child had no defense against this bloody nonsense and somehow carried infantile anachronistic remnants of this utter stupidity with him or her which took over this persons mind in a moment of utter weakness.
How you can redeem yourselves I don’t know. Retraction of this piece and a huge apology might be a start. A follow-up in which religious belief is treated as the historically created phenomenon it is, would be another step in the right direction. The first needs to be wholeheartedly sincere and the latter exceptionally well done to even start to begin to win back a tiny bit of the credibility your program once had.

Jul. 03 2012 05:20 PM
stefania from Brooklyn

I cant imagine how hard Jad must have fought to keep this retarded garbage out of the radiolab body of work. There might have even been a screaming fight or two, but in the end Robert prevailed and the listeners lost. Big time. I am seriously disappointed and have lost a TON of respect for Robert. Big dummy.

Jun. 25 2012 03:43 AM
Sarah from Philadelphia, PA

Dear Robert and Jad,

I love this episode the most. It's tough ranking superlatives when it comes to Radiolab, because it's all pretty terrific. But never have I heard such a balanced view of religion. Robert K. acknowledges that God may exist, or be may not, but it's all in our perception. It forced me to wonder what would have happened if Abraham (Lincoln or Bible) or Noah didn't have Krulwich's 'hope,' to balance out the passion and rage. Sadly, it puts me in the mind of Bin Laden.

What is "the Good Man"? Perhaps we are all "good men," (male and female) ... only some of us have the ability to hold back after seeing so much, and others don't.

This inspired me to write a book that's in progress. Thank you, Robert, for sharing your insight.

~Sarah L.

May. 25 2012 02:52 PM

I need to repost a few brilliant lines by Ajzzz.

"It didn't answer any questions for me, because I don't have an imaginary friend, not even one that tells me to murder innocent children. Hope that there's a "higher" reason?"

- I agree, blocking logic and reality does not lead to an open mind or open discussion. If I were religious I'd be wondering why this passage. There must be hundreds of other passages that don't make the religious look like blind followers.

Religion apparently poisons everything, including this podcast. I've heard of evangelicals pulling a bait and switch, but I didn't expect this from Radiolab.

- exactly, there is a difference between the dogma of religion and the open objectivity of science. The other podcasts had this refreshing approach in a society dominated by Judeo Christian values. I'm so sick of this hypocritical self-serving "morality" that I don't want to hear it when I want to relax.

I don't think messages like "blindly follow anything god tells you - even murder" to be helpful in our society. That's what I'm so against this. That's why I'm not listening to RL anymore.

Apr. 18 2012 08:46 PM

Being new to the world of podcasts, I found Radiolab fairly recently. I have yet to listen to one that I have not enjoyed thoroughly and this one is no exception. Robert, I am astounded by your eloquence. Thank you for giving me some insight.

As far as religious beliefs are concerned. I really am not sure what I believe. I will say, however, that judging from the comments posted, It seems to me that the majority of athiests are as pompously dogmatic as the religious extremists that they are constantly railing against.

Apr. 05 2012 10:39 AM
Petya from NY

Thank you so much... it was wonderful

Apr. 03 2012 12:37 AM

I'm an atheist but I still meditate and search for deeper spiritual truths. I also often look to more classic spiritual writings (like buddhism and the words of Jesus) to find deeper meaning.

I didn't, however, find this sermon very enlightening. It seemed to set a very low benchmark on morality. Should we praise someone like Abraham Lincoln for feeling guilt or sorry for sending many young men to war? I think we should simply expect this as a basic human condition of morality.

I also felt that this message encouraged a blind obedience of religion. These men were rewarded simply for obeying instead of following their own moral compass which would have told them the act was wrong. This is religion at it's worst.

I've had this problem with some of the older Judeo-Christian writings that portray god as a sadistic figure who shows rage and jealousy. I don't see these as truths to explore. I understand the argument used to fit all these diverse teaching into the bible but I don't agree with these arguments. They seem to justify after the fact instead of truly explaining. When pushed the answers often involve to just have faith which deadens the inquiring mind.

It's not that it should or should not allowed to be discussed. I think it's more correct to say it's disappointing to see a show that has had so many episodes governed by the scientific tradition of objectivity produce an opinion piece. These opinions are already everywhere in various forms. What's rare is a show that maintains a high academic standard.

For anyway else that feels this way consider the infinite monkey cage podcast. It's a wonderful and thoughtful and often humorous show on science and culture. Like many things british it has a bit more of an edge to it and subjective opinions without fact are not tolerated.

Apr. 02 2012 10:59 AM

If I could have one favorite of all these shows. I would have to say its this one. It's moving, insightful, heart breaking and beautiful.

Thank you :)

Apr. 02 2012 04:22 AM

absolutely beautiful summation of cosmological evolution...

Mar. 06 2012 03:17 PM
steph from Portland, OR

Thank you so much for this beautiful podcast.

It was snowing this morning on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and I listened to this podcast as I walked over a bridge to meet a wonderful volunteer. Every year, I try to find a different speech or movie to commemorate the day. This story - about how much we say in silence, how silence defines us, and how hope in adversity and pain is fundamental to our humanity - was the podcast I had hoped to find today.

Thank you again.

PS. It had never occurred to me that this was a science show. I had always defined Radiolab as a show that seeks to bring understanding about the world we live in. We often relay our understanding of the world in stories. Sometimes story anthologies are religious texts, sometimes the complete works of Shakespeare.

Jan. 16 2012 05:26 PM
Dane Larsen

Do you guys mind correcting my name to read "Dane" rather than "Dan" on the photo attribution?

Nov. 17 2011 12:28 AM
Luis Suarez

Does anyone know the name of the song played at the end of this podcast?

Oct. 27 2011 06:32 PM
Zak from USA

I describe myself as an atheist because it is easy and technically correct, although the truth of the matter is that I was raised without religion and I simply don't think about religion often. I don't think of the current religions as being more true than the Greek myths that I learned about in school. In fact, I know the stories of the judeo-christian texts about as well as I know of the Greek myths, the epic of gilgamesh, the bhagavad gita, etc, which is to say that I am familiar with them but I have not studied them in great detail. As an outsider, I found this story to be heartbreaking and beautiful. I am not offended at having listened to it at all, I thought it was interesting to hear a person talk about how their religious myths affect them, and what they want to get out of it. I would love to go back in time and hear a person who believed in one of the dead religions tell one of their stories and offer their own philosophical interpretations of it. I think that we are at an interesting time for our species because we are, for the first time in our history, largely abandoning our poetic story telling method of explaining the world. I liked hearing somebody talk about their stories and I can see the appeal of believing these things myself, although I cannot imagine myself actually believing anything of the sort. In fact, even if I found believing such things personally comforting, I think religions are terrible for our species as a whole. I suppose if I had grown up with religion and turned my back on it I could see being offended by this, but I simply found it fascinating. I didn't feel preached to anymore than when I listen to Harry Potter audiobooks.

Anyway, great episode, a very enjoyable listen.

Oct. 23 2011 04:47 PM

Yes, Radiolab, it's your show and you can do whatever you want, but that doesn't mean that it's right to completely ignore the expectations of your listeners. When you solicit money from fans, you create a sort of contract with them: we give you money, and you continue to provide a service that we enjoy. Does that mean you have to stick to a rigid formula? Of course not. But it does mean that we are entitled to certain expectations about the tone of the show.

I do not wish to suggest that a discussion of religion doesn't belong on a show that's primarily about science. Radiolab frequently includes "non-scientific" topics such as music, art, culture, and so on, so I have no problem with a religiously-themed episode. What I do take issue with is the completely uncritical tone. No, I'm not saying you need to bash religion to gain scientific legitimacy, but a sermon doesn't belong here. It would be one thing to just discuss the meaning of a story, but Krulwich is clearly using a Bible story to make a point about religious faith.

I've been listening to Radiolab a lot in the past week and was juuuuust about to give a donation until I heard this episode. No more.

Oct. 21 2011 12:52 PM
desertkhaat from NYC

I'm an atheist- no not a bitter vitriolic hate filled person, as some have mis-characterised us- and though at first I was disappointed (o no religion on RADIOLAB!?!?) I simply listened. It was beautiful & poetic. devastating.

i cried for the animals. the idea behind the flood.

for me it was an affirmation of something. an idea of the depth of our own cruelty that we seek even in our myths, to destroy simply to redeem ourselves....

quiet beautiful & moving....

Sep. 28 2011 09:27 PM


I suppose you and Jad probably knew that you would get flack for this podcast before you posted it, but that just makes it all the more special to me. I appreciate the beauty and art of the sermon (and you did disclose at the beginning that it was a sermon, so I don't see what the big deal was). I think it was an honest and open grappling with the myths that make up traditions in two of the most widely accepted religions in the world, and I think it is a beautiful preponderance on those ethical questions that plague us all. Without seeing problems within these scriptures and comparing them with our modern understandings of love and life and grace, we can't begin to see other places in the scriptures that might be ethically weak or morally reprehensible. Hopefully, deep thinkers and critical questioning of these texts will help us to become a more moral and ethical society that extends love and grace to all people, regardless of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

Sep. 27 2011 02:42 PM

After listening to this podcast, I just had to check out the comments (the first one to do compel me to do so). The discussion of this subject was so poetic and beautiful, I had to hear what others thought.

I'm shocked at the vitriol from many of the posters (and I shake my head in bemused disbelief at the idiots claiming to stop listening to the podcast). I ended up listening to this episode three times because I have no faith in a god, and this story is one of the reasons why. I was looking for an explanation.

I didn't find one, but I found the discussion moving and engaging, see repeaded listenings of something so beautiful as worth my time. To those that dismiss this episode as religious propaganda, are fools. I went in looking for an argument for believing, and found none.

I don't know what to call myself; the term "athiest" is disgusting. Those proclaiming to be such are bitter, angry people whose faith in nothing is as strong and unforgiving as those with a faith in God. I'm a man without a home, but that's ok. I'll continue searching.

Sep. 22 2011 09:29 AM
Agnes from Sweden

I love RadioLab, but I wish that I'd never heard this episode.

Sep. 16 2011 10:27 AM

I would just like to ask "What part of Atheism is scientific?" Finding no evidence of a god empirically is not proof of god's non existence. Empiricism isn't exactly on great epistemological footing, its own justification is circular. There is no rational reason to pick it over counter empiricism. Beyond that the existence of the supernatural, i.e. things that act by non-natural forces are clearly not testable by observing natural forces. Atheists have faith, they just have faith in nothing. At the end of the day it's any faith that's irrational. Faith is an assumption of an extra premise and premises can just as easily be negations as a positive statements.
So atheists quit trying to bogart science, when all science is is organized empiricism.
Also please stop arguing with your fellow people of faith wearing the false mask of faithlessness, it confuses the issues and makes it harder for people without any faith to explain epistemology.
I apologize to all Atheists who just don't believe in god, but don't actively not believe in god. You have the right to label yourselves whatever you want, but I personally consider you agnostic.
Finally too religious people, I admire your faith, I don't understand it, I can't have it, but most all social science data shows religious people on average live longer and are happier than the nonreligious. So pragmatically speaking you all are the right ones.

Aug. 29 2011 02:29 PM

The story of Abraham and Isaac is basically a description of the greatest "psych just kidding" joke ever played. Humor is all about perspective. I like to imagine god kicking it with the angels, perhaps passing the peace pipe, going "you know what would be a great way to reveal myself..." From Abrahams perspective, yeah it's not funny at all, but he had faith and it turned out to be a joke. Given that god bestowed upon man free will, that means the world is going to be pretty bleak and cruel sometimes. However, if a father being willing murder his son can turn out to be a joke, pretty much anything can. So have faith and wait to get the joke after a perspective change, probably death.

Aug. 26 2011 09:35 PM
Juan from UK

I also found this not quite up to radiolab's usual standards and am wondering where else to go for science. Thing is, if most of us seeking science had heard this first, we wouldn't have become hooked on radiolab. So I find it rather ironic that the guidelines for comments on this forum refer to 'staying on topic'. Okay, there is merit in philosophical excursions also, but can they begin from Abraham and Isaac? Noah? Hmm... If this had been a podcast about myth making, and myths as sense-making of our world, I might have been more tuned in.

Aug. 26 2011 03:30 PM
Joanna from Australia

I love the friction and harmony you explore and create between Science and Spirituality. I adored this podcast. Robert, you words were hypnotic and captivating. Thank you.

Aug. 21 2011 04:28 AM

Science is in everything, even our exploration on God's character and who He is should be considered a type of science. I think this discussion fits in well here and I appreciated Robert's eloquence. Quite beautiful and brings me joy on a Friday.

Jul. 29 2011 07:24 PM
NCD from Portugal

I´ve just discovered RadioLab a while ago, and loving it.
As I finished this podcast, I remembered Darwinvaganza.
Maybe Darwin's silence, after Annie can be related to this same silence.
Maybe if you mentioned Darwin instead of Abraham the comment box would be quieter.

Thank you for an awsome job.

Jul. 22 2011 12:56 PM

It's a METAPHOR, and a poorly constructed one at that. You can't analyze the personal reasons behind a purely metaphorical story. This is a ridiculous exercise.

Jun. 21 2011 10:10 AM

now I have to discard all the interesting things I've learned from you, guys, as bullsh*t

Jun. 13 2011 06:56 AM

removing podcast feed in 3.. 2.. 1

Jun. 13 2011 06:46 AM

God speaks to me, too. I swear.

Jun. 08 2011 04:35 PM
Ya Hoo

What pap. While it was marginally interesting before this one, this one certainly finished it off for me. Those of you who called this junk poetic or deep or enthralling should stow your awesome and unearned superlatives. You wouldn't know poetry if it was read to you...

Jun. 08 2011 04:27 PM
Cat from Vancouver

A. Zhang really sums up my emotions on this one:

"I found this episode disappointing relative to the value of other radiolab episodes. I've read through some of the others listeners comments and to me, the argument that this show topically is out of place on radiolab, holds. Like your other shows, big questions are being talked about. But the source for these investigations is a fictional story [...]"

I was actually embarrassed by the thought that someone might overhear what I was listening to.

Was it just me or did I hear a tad of impatience in Jad's voice ("alright then!") at the end?

May. 27 2011 11:57 AM
Wallace Westfeldt from Boulder, Co

I found this D'Var Torah on the Abraham and Isaac story extremely well done and fascinating. Yet, as often is the case, I marveled at the attempt to find some justification in the unspeakable acts done in the name of God. If there is a God, he and I are not on the same team.

May. 12 2011 01:50 PM

Man, I guess it's a good thing I didn't hear this before making my WNYC donation...

Perhaps in 500 years there'll be someone on the radio trying to make people feel all warm and fuzzy about 19 guys flying planes into the WTC for their god, and all the wonderful lessons we can learn from it. I'll bet they were silent too when they crashed into the building, what with their gigantic hearts and all.

Gimme a break.

May. 04 2011 04:24 PM
Jade from Montreal

Ugh, some of you commenters are the worst. I thought it was a beautiful, thoughtful piece that when i choose to listen to it had me standing outside my door in a freezing canadian winter to hear the rest and not break the spell.

If you don't want to hear a sermon, then you should have turned it off the moment Jad said "this is a sermon" opening the piece. Instead, you listen, and then rant: "I love what you do, as long as you do exactly what i want without departing from itl"; "I respect the show, but can we keep Robert's ridiculous opinions about religion off the air". Apparently your admiration is somewhat shallow, and your understanding of respect even more so.

My goodness, if you think that the careful examination of a powerful human story, myth or metaphor is "religious brainwashing" you have no business considering yourself an intellectual, or thoughtful human. If he had been discussing a buddhist creation myth, I wonder if you would be so snake tongued. If this is a climate of response to religious discourse no wonder crazy people think there is a war on christmas. Ugh.

Mar. 24 2011 11:51 PM
dennis from Pittsburgh

Is there a transcript of this anywhere?

Jan. 24 2011 02:35 PM
Huilan from Laytonville, CA

This podcast is one of the very best in its poetry, its curiosity and ultimately, its humanism. I have always held that though I don't have belief in God or the church I do not doubt that those relationships for others are not present and intrinsic parts of enriching people's lives. But what I found most powerful in Robert's sermon was that this was a sermon much less about God and more about the 'voluptuous human hearts' that we hope to find and touch in each of our close bonds.

Those who found this piece to be propagandistic I think are reacting to the caricatures of authority that exist in the media representing Christianity, or any organized religion or ideology for that matter. The church is a tool and the Bible is a book, both will be used and both will be interpreted by who wields it. But that is not a reason to dismiss this sermon that isn't even about Christianity. It's about the struggle we sometimes endure in love that tests our best instincts and ultimately makes us realize that sometimes silence is the best answer to the things we cannot know. Modernity has not changed so much our morality from the time of the prophets or Medieval Europe, its just made the terrible things we do to each other more subversive or punishable. And punishing those who wrong does not make us any more right.

Thank you Robert for illuminating and making human stories that I knew of, but now I feel belongs to me as well. Not a Christian but a human.

Jan. 07 2011 01:59 PM
Peter from DC

The hostility towards people who simply hope for the justice and the meaning and the explanation that this world lacks - who hope in the world to come - is a constant vexing to me. We faithful are hopeful people. Why the animosity toward us? We do not deny Nature. We do not deny Science. We do not deny any truth. We celebrate life. We stand with you in awe of the cell, in awe of the atom, in awe of the stars, in awe of the universe. Our heads spin in wonder as we consider the photon or ponder the mystery of gravity. Like you, we know not the explanation of life. We cannot describe the source. We have not the words to say what lies beyond time and space, that unfathomable realm from which time and space sprung forth. We, like you, cannot imagine this and we bow our head in humility in the presence of the sublime world that surrounds us, breath by breath. But we stand apart, you from us. Because we hope. Maybe for different reasons, but we do hope. We hope in something larger than ourselves and we do not understand why this upsets you so. To the claims that our hope is in vain you cannot possibly know any better than we. And so we see that as we hope, you too hope. As we believe, as we have faith, so too must you believe and have faith. But I do not understand this hope, this belief, this faith of yours that our hope, our belief, our faith is folly. I do not understand the hope that hopes against my hope, the belief that believes against my belief, the faith that has faith that my faith is mistaken for my hope is in glory, justice, peace, eternity and I cannot comprehend the hope that hopes against this. Can it be true? For it is said that our hopes are indeed rewarded - yours and mine. It is said that the world to come is real, that salvation is available to all, but that not all will choose it. Why, o why, do you not choose it? Why do you turn against this hope? What offends you so about this hope that you should will it away? I just don't understand.

Jan. 01 2011 05:01 PM

I somehow missed this when it originally aired--- great show!

Why is it that everyone gets their panties in a wad over religion, anyway? We all have these questions, we are all just trying to figure it out. Why is it such a big deal to talk about it? It's not like Krulwich was telling anyone what to believe--- he was simply offering his ideas on the subject. Where does the anger come from in some of these listeners? That's the REAL question.

Dec. 22 2010 08:39 PM

It is unbelievable to me how some of the people posting comments on this episode, and a lot of other ones too, have the nerve to state something like "this doesn't belong on this program". This is not "your" program, you do not decide on the topics. Science isn't the only topic of this show, and it shouldn't be, if you want science go to the NPR science program. If you want a thought provoking, intellectual show, meant to challenge your preconceived notions of what is true, then stay tuned.
They should do a show on why our brains are so unwilling to change.
If you consider yourself intelligent you should open your mind to explore everything in an intelligent manner. It is obvious that some of you have a very limited view of the world.

Dec. 22 2010 12:50 PM
richard brux

As a liturgist in the Christ-ian tradition and a lifelong student of the Psalms, I love this.

In a time when there is a culture of denial around anything that disturbs or brings honest grief, Radiolab is to be commended for speaking to such a human moment.

My nine-year-old son loves science (and Radiolab!) because he has a curious mind and an open heart. He has no use for any church that asks his spirituality to be pigeon-holed away from this love. His growing to understand gravity and have reverence for the life cycle of a forest is a lot like how one's spiritual life swells and thrives.

I am grateful for Radiolab doing programs that speak our human enthrallment with wonder through inquiry. In this program, I appreciate the vehicle of Story to carry our questions and wonders.

Thanks, Robert.

Dec. 01 2010 12:57 PM

Excellent. Thank you.

Nov. 10 2010 03:31 PM

This was absolutely great. Robert, you are an incredible storyteller and explainer-of-things. I was moved by this.

Also, inherent in the title of Radiolab is a willingness to experiment, and thus explore topics in new and non-traditional ways. I continue to be impressed by the techniques you guys use, and this podcast touched on new ground for the show. Please don't stop exploring even if some of the listener base wants the same format each and every time ;)


Oct. 15 2010 11:32 AM

Walking into a minefield but here goes. So, this Is my view of how I reconcile the sacrifice of Isaac with regard to a supposed loving God. I am assuming that (1) there is a God, (2) that God is a personal, relational being, (3) that God interacts with mankind. For the atheists and agnostics, feel free to disregard these assumptions and the post in general, but the post is intended for people to understand how Christians (well, at least this Christian) think, not as a proof of any of the above.

Isaac was the fulfillment of the promise God gave Abraham and Isaac was deeply loved by his father. God of course knew this, so why did he ask him to sacrifice Isaac? Was He trying to "test" Abraham? If God is all-knowing, then He would have already known Abraham would pass, so why put him through the torture? Or is this the story of the historical turning point of a group of nomadic sheep herders who go from religions of human sacrifices to valuing human life?

Stay with me for a minute. I think that God shared such a close relationship with Abraham (as the father of His "chosen people") that He wanted to share with him and make him understand a little taste of the pain and suffering that God would go through when He sent His Son, Jesus, to die as a sacrifice. Sort of like God saying "Abraham, you love your one and only son, do you see how much this hurts? I love my one and only Son too, and it hurts even more. I won't make you kill your son, but I am going to give up my Son to save you, because I love you." I guess the only similar illustration of sharing in someone's suffering I can think of is some families of cancer patients who shave their heads to share in the experiences. Nevertheless, during the ordeal Abraham never wavered, saying "God will provide", and God did provide, a sacrificial lamb in that case on the mountain symbolic of and paralleling the ultimate case of God providing Jesus to die on a cross.

What affirms this idea to me is the age of the characters associated. Abraham at this point is old, very old. I imagine it was a struggle for him to even make it up the mountain. Isaac on the other hand is young, healthy, strong, most likely a teenager. Abraham would not have been able to physically force or intimidate Isaac into climbing onto the alter. Isaac would had to have gone willingly. Isaac says "Dad, I love you and I trust you". Yet another parallel as Christ willingly (in the Christian mind) offered himself. Isaac submits to his father, and Abraham submits to God, and God says "I will not put this pain on anybody except myself". And submission is not always bad. Its not oppressive to submit to someone if that person knows better than you and has your best interest at heart, to the extent that they will die for you.

A final thought tying it all back to the theme of silence is the 3 hours of darkness and silence that fell on Jerusalem during the crucifixion of Jesus. That "in silence" (at least in Christian thought) God forgave the entirety of human sin while Jesus was on the cross. Another illustration: if someone wrongs us severely, and we forgive them, it is usually a pretty painful experience that we go through internally. This internal struggle is made manifest and displayed in Christ on the cross (since Jesus and God are one in Christian theology), as he forgives the sins of rebellion against his kingdom.

I hope this was a little helpful in enlightening the Christian view more than just "Kill your son because God told you to". Religion misused CAN be very dangerous (i.e. crusades, suicide bombers, money-hungry pastors), but it can also be a HUGE force for good (think organizations like the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Young Men's Christian Association, Goodwill stores, countless hospitals and orphanages with the word "Saint" in front of them) designed to alleviate pain and suffering around the world. People ascribing to atheism CAN also be very bad (i.e. Pol Pot, Stalin/Lenin), but it's adherents don't attribute evil to the idea itself. So be fair when arguing your point.

Sorry for the long post. Great podcast, keep the good stuff coming!

Aug. 11 2010 08:24 PM

Hi. As a RadioLab new listener, I really enjoyed this show and appreciate the varying views and discussion above. I am wondering, who is the cello (I assume cello) at the end of the cast? My first guess was Zoe Keating. Thanks!

Jun. 07 2010 10:18 PM

Another fan of 98% of the episodes, here. If you were disappointed by the evangelical tone of this episode, I suggest bracing yourself before hearing the episode entitled "In Defense of Darwin?" Humanist Richard Dawkins is featured prominently in that episode, but Robert takes editorial liberties during the broadcast, playing Dawkins sound bytes then inserting his religious last word, to which Dawkins obviously is given to chance to reply. Seemed like a handy way of dismissing a religiously seditious point of view without having to deal with the actual argument.

May. 18 2010 03:49 PM

Just heard this episode and turned it off after I realized I'd been duped. An OK "story" told very eloquently, but nothing more. IMO this had no place on THIS program. To end on a positive note, both of you have produced some of the BEST programming I have ever heard...keep it up please.

May. 11 2010 07:43 PM
Whoa Nellie

To A. Zhang:

Just a note; this wasn't literary analysis. It was a sermon delivered in a synagogue, and it wasn't a discussion. It relied on what I consider an offensive lie about someone who, if they actually did half of what the story claims, would have been arrested and incarcerated in modern times. They would not be treated as someone who was spoken to by god, because that is baloney, and everyone knows it, unless they prefer fantasy to reality. Your comparison to the Bat Man is a little thin; this biblical subject seems to be accepted as truth by many people, while Batman is still widely accepted fiction. Wouldn't it be funny if Batman was treated as a god in the future? Maybe I should start a batman church now.

So, yes, I for one am offended by the show.

And you , Ranger... YOU relax.

Apr. 09 2010 03:54 PM

I agree with Carl, I'm totally amazed at how offended so many people were by this podcast. First of all, it's not a full episode, just a podcast. Second of all, since when is RadioLab an exclusively "Science" show. Because it's not! These are stories, that's it. And a big part of our CULTURE, something Radiolab deals with a lot. People need to relax.

Apr. 05 2010 12:38 PM

On the appropriateness of a "story" in a scientific venue: says, Aristotle, "Art completes what nature cannot bring to finish. The artist gives us knowledge of nature's unrealized ends."

Apr. 05 2010 02:05 AM

Come ON people. I'm an atheist, yet I didn't find myself offended by this as others were in the least. What's wrong with philosophical and intellectual ponderings on stories that many hold true to-- especially this time of year? You all need to chill out. Love Radiolab. Jad, Robert and company... you all do an amazing job. Keep it up.

Apr. 04 2010 11:29 PM
A. Zhang

I found this episode disappointing relative to the value of other radiolab episodes. I've read through some of the others listeners comments and to me, the argument that this show topically is out of place on radiolab, holds. Like your other shows, big questions are being talked about. But the source for these investigations is a fictional story, which is simply uncharacteristic of radiolab. (Maybe suitable for radiolitcrit? radioficiton?)

If analysis of fiction is to be defended as appropriate subject for radiolab, I think some effort should have been made to defend the choice of this story. If the intent was to have your listeners think about why suffering exists, why life exists, why some questions go unanswered; we could use as example just about any silence in fiction that causes these reactions in other characters. Batman's motives may at times have been as mysterious to the residents of Gotham city as the christian god's was to Abraham.

Without address to why this piece of fiction was a a particularly valuable springboard for thinking about big why questions, I found this analysis of fiction without much value to me. If the reason should be something like, the author and many people of the world take this story as fact; that the bible universe is in fact our universe, then the implications of the big questions may surely be very meaningful for them. However, it may be vacuous for those who don't take them to be.

For me, it reduces like this. If the story is fiction, the silences and questions are very meaningful for the characters in it, like how the secretive motives of batman are significant to Gotham city. If the story is fact, then the implication of the big questions may be relevant to our universe, but we will have had to make such a large allowance to what we consider factual in our universe, that we may also have consider the implications of batman universe morality with the same seriousness.

Since radiolab seems to adhere to pretty conventional beliefs about the natural laws of our universe that prohibit the second alternative, it seems that this episode may be an example of the first option: literary analysis, which is, of course, an unfamiliar topic for radiolab shows. And if it times, it seems as though radiolab is taking the story to have truly serious consequences as though it were truly a part of this universe, then it seems like the case may be that the storyteller wants his cake anda wants to eat it too at the sacrifice of sticking to one story.

Mar. 31 2010 10:53 PM
Critical Fan

I am a fan of the show and Jad and Robert. However, I found this podcast thoroughly offensive. There was nothing beautiful about it. To a discerning mind, it was subtle propaganda by way of included and excluded examples of "unexplainable evil", and not-so-subtle propaganda for the rest of it. Disappointing and offensive.

Mar. 02 2010 02:21 PM

Gather 'round all ye. This is the 400th posting. I vote this get onto the "most commented" list...

Jan. 25 2010 05:31 PM
Radio Blab

I thought I was picking up interference from some midwestern / Kansas kinda radio station when this came on, but I think it was in a Jewish church.

Jan. 25 2010 05:18 PM
I'm Scared

Want to see something scary? Watch Jesus Camp. It is the same as this sermon.

Jan. 25 2010 05:13 PM

I have decided to start a religion. In this religion, I anticipate getting my way without a good reason and living tax-free. In tough times like these, I can sure use the money, too. I suppose a few acting classes would be a good investment.

Lesson 1: How to describe attempted murder as "God made me do it, rather than the Devil made me do it.

Jan. 25 2010 05:08 PM
Amanda Black shouldn't have.

Amanda Black wrote this:

"Thank you for
this meditation."

No, Amanda, THANK YOU; you shouldn't have (bothered). I went to the link Amanda provided (, which appears to be her twitter page. Turns out she is a blank slate, like a bovine or some other glassy-eyed beast. I guess anything longer than "looks like rain" or "weights are good for working out" might qualify as a meditation to someone in Amanda's state (Michigan...?).

Jan. 25 2010 05:01 PM
Rev. David Huber is a dope, too.

Hey Revrund -

This is what you wrote:

I found this to be a beautiful,
thoughtful, and amazing and
honest/caring exploration through
a terrible text. I especially love
the mentions that silence received.

This is easily the most profound
and moving sermon on the binding
of Isaac I’ve ever heard.

Christian preachers tend to do a
very poor job with this story
because they too quickly move to
“And then God provided his son,
Jesus, and that makes everything
okay!” and skip having any kind
of serious encounter with or
digging into the terror and
awfulness of what Abraham was
asked to do. We can see this
attitude in some of the above
responses from what I assume
are Christians.

I guess you're going to make me pick it apart piece-by-piece...

"beautiful, thoughtful, and
amazing and honest/caring
exploration through a
terrible text."

You are stretching it too far with this. The only thing correct is the word "terrible". Where do you get honest from? Do you have a dictionary? Looks like you write like you preach; just throwing in enough words to take up some space. Garbage.

"the most profound and
moving sermon on the
binding of Isaac I’ve
ever heard"

It is one of the least profound things I have ever heard, including most of the lines in Loony Toons. You must be very sheltered from profundity and emotionally disabled, to be so easily moved. You did correctly note that this was a sermon, though. Maybe Rob should switch to a religious radio station.

"the terror and awfulness
of what Abraham was asked
to do"

You are lost. Abraham, if he did exist, was not asked to do anything. He was a psychotic or schizophrenic liability to anyone near him.

"Christian preachers ...
too quickly move to “And
then God provided his son,
Jesus, and that makes
everything okay!” We can
see this attitude in some
of the above responses from
what I assume are Christians."

Are you saying that God providing his only son DID NOT make everything okay? What the hell am I supposed to believe now?

Did you totally miss the satire in the posts above from the fake christians? Naivete is for children. It is not cute when a stupid adult wastes everyone's time with preachy crap.

Jan. 25 2010 04:23 PM
Michael is a dope.

Hey Michael -

If you think the way some atheists behave makes YOU look bad, you egotist, please do us all a favor and disassociate yourself with us immediately. This idiotic podcast was actually a pseudo-intellectual sermon pondering the totally explainable; a non-event which did not involve a god. Enough with religious tolerance already. What a bunch of nonsense you dummies perpetuate. YOU make ME sad for humanity. I would say that makes us even, but it doesn't. You are a fool and I am not.

Jan. 25 2010 03:49 PM

And this is how some atheists make the rest of us look bad. I love it how instead of seeing this for what it really was, an intellectual pondering on something that Radiolab (and humanity) can't explain, you all hear the word "Bible" and transform yourselves into a militant, angry, and hateful mouth that bites the hands that have fed them such wonderful knowledge for so long. You people make me sad for humanity and the understanding that I wish we could have for each other. Understanding that Rob has shown he has and you have shown... you don't.

This is why I listen to Radiolab Rob. Thank you.

Dec. 22 2009 10:38 PM
Kevin Bowersox

A bit self-indulgent and off-topic don't you think? I kept wishing you would get to the point and when you did all I could think of was that you had apparently just wanted to fill the time with your one feeble insight. Please don't waste our time again. If I want a meager bit of information stretched out to an hour of hand waving and dramatic tones I will go to church.

Oct. 30 2009 09:05 AM

I love Radiolab- it has kept many a long drive from Boston to NJ entertaining and enlightening. I first listened to this piece a few months ago, and made a note to relisten to it for the High Holidays this year, and I have found it quite invigorating and renewing.

Thanks for this- really beautiful work.

Sep. 27 2009 12:47 PM
Less Stupid

This is your evidence that Radiolab is not using scientific method; just scientific-sounding language to trick the disinterested into listening to a sermon. Bye now.

Aug. 30 2009 04:42 PM
Robert (not Krulwich)

I am deeply moved by the emotion and pain inherent in this piece. Much of my own feelings about faith, doubt, life and hope are well reflected in this piece.

I feel the time I spent listening to this episode was more than worth it. And it helped my focus on what is important this day.

Thank you Mr. Krulwich.

Aug. 08 2009 09:48 AM

Worst. Episode. Ever.

Aug. 07 2009 01:14 AM

Radio Lab has set the bar pretty high as far as radio shows go. I find your scientific approach to a broad array of topics refreshing and stimulating. And I suppose that is the reason behind my great sense of disappointment with this episode. In my eyes, you have managed to fail as greatly as you have succeeded until now. You used this show as a platform to rehearse bible stories and express your religious sentiment. There was nothing edifying about this. Shame on you.

Aug. 01 2009 04:17 PM

This is the most beautiful sermon i've ever listed to. This was the FIRST sermon i have ever listed to without feeling angry, annoyed and disgusted.I certainly didnt agree with a lot of what was said (being a non-religious person), but I really admired how Robert confronts some of the most difficult questions which arise in the bible; question most other relgious peolpe would really not like to think about. I wish there were more religious people who had this courage.

Jul. 31 2009 09:35 AM
Another Replayed Favorite


Comment from David N. Goliath
Date: April 10, 2009, 5:04 pm



Jul. 19 2009 11:03 AM
a replayed favorite


Comment from Jez
Date: April 9, 2009, 6:54 am

Who is forcing all you complainers to listen to this particular podcast? Get over yourselves.

I’m not a religious man either, but I still found something in this episode. Radiolab isn’t just a ’science show’, it’s a show about stories and questions and provoking discussion and thought.

Maybe it’s a good time to remind everyone that Radiolab is a FREE service that owes you precisely nothing. Maybe instead of bitching about the content of one single podcast, you should be spending your time creating something even half as inspirational and fascinating as any Radiolab episode.

Jul. 18 2009 11:37 PM

The only thing more boring than Radiolab is the music spread around it like margarine. Since when did a little noodling around become a "score"? I am so done with this lameness.

Jul. 18 2009 02:00 PM

Good. I'm glad Aaron's gone, and I'm glad he confessed to using the "exaggerations" and "figures of speech" in the same comment where he told ME to think before I post. That's what someone wishing to seem smart does when they aren't actually smart; they exaggerate... and they use emoticons. 00===D Too bad he caved so quickly after insulting me, I only just started rolling over him. I would've enjoyed rag-dolling his pseudo intellect around before leaving him stammering and drooling. He doesn't know what from.

Anyway, now we can talk reality instead of fantasy without interference by that dummy.

I will give ten million dollars (U.S.) to anyone who can show tangible evidence of the existence of god. Such evidence must have exclusivity; meaning proof must not just be a field of flowers or a mountain range with the question "how can THAT exist without god?" No "Miracle on 34th Street" style proof either.

This is a hard one, folks, but with a MILLION DOLLARS at the end of the rainbow. Robert? Need ten million bucks?

Jul. 18 2009 01:43 PM

Okay, okay. I give in. You're right about absolutely everything you said. After reading your post, I became an atheist and put all the Bibles I had into the paper shredder and then burned the shreds. =P

Saying this with all neutrality, both you and I know that my saying of "99.9% of religious people," and "all of Christianity's teachings" were exaggerations; figures of speech. Also, what's wrong with "sir"? It gives the impression that you are the dominant one.

Look, I'm not going to spend my time arguing with you anymore. I don't need your hateful comments as a part of my life. I'm not going to ever look at this comments section again. You'd be wasting your time replying to this post.

Your perspective has been embraced, considered, and quickly rejected.


Jul. 17 2009 09:46 PM


I forgot to tell you that I was very impressed with your calculation / derivation that led you to the exact amount of "99.9% of religious people".

You are a real mathematician.

And don't call me sir.

Jul. 17 2009 05:44 PM

Hi Aaron,

Thank you for calling me a hypocrite, you dunce. You need either a dictionary, a thesaurus, or both. If you don't like what I said, that is fine, but you, sir, are too stupid to try to reason your way through it. So there. Name calling is what you get, because it is the most you can understand.

When you said you are "not necessarily a die-hard Christian", do you mean you are one, or you aren't one, or that you aren't sure, or that you are afraid to say? When you say "The Bible and all of Christianity's teachings could be viewed the same way..." (as Wagner's ring cycle offering beautiful insight into the human condition), I have to wonder what you are smoking, and where can I get some? ALL of Christianity? Really? How much of the Bible have you read? If you say more than a paragraph, I will bet you are a liar. The Bible is horrifying when it's not simply intelligence-insulting.

Wake up, grow up, and stop looking at the Bible as literature. It is a manual for controlling large groups of weak people, written by clever men with an eye on the bottom line. If reading it makes you feel like "...all of a sudden a whole new perspective on life opens up", I warn you to be careful.

So there's a different perspective. EMBRACE IT.

Jul. 17 2009 05:41 PM

@ Cow. A Bunga...

In your sencond-to-last post, you said this: "The only thing I fear about religion is its followers, who abandon reason for illusory comfort, and VERY OFTEN impose their beliefs onto others..." This statement happens to be the most hypocritical thing I've seen in a long while. You, sir, are imposing your beliefs on others with your aggressive language, more forcefully than 99.9% of religious people do. Think before you post.

As for religion, I'm not necessarily a die-hard Christian. I like to look at the Bible as literature, rather than proof of a higher power. Is Wagner's ring cycle a proof that gods exist? I think not, but it still offers beautiful insight into the human condition. The Bible and all of Christianity's teachings could be viewed the same way, and all of a sudden a whole new perspective on life opens up. There's my views... I dunno... any comments about them are fine. I EMBRACE different perspectives.

Jul. 15 2009 10:42 PM

I have counted well over 300 comments on this particular segment of Radiolab, making it, seemingly, the most commented thing ever on Radiolab. Why isn't this on the most commented listings on the homepage?

Jul. 02 2009 09:32 AM
WTF Chicken

To Mark:

"As a physician being firmly ingrained
in science, I too find it often mixed with the divine."


Jun. 27 2009 11:15 AM

I've wanted to post about this podcast for a while. As a physician being firmly ingrained in science, I too find it often mixed with the divine.

As I listened to the topic of silence, I couldn't help but think of the I Kings 19:11-13. A powerful wind, an earthquake, and a fire all passed by Elijah but the divine was in a gentle whisper.

Jun. 25 2009 08:50 AM
Cow A. Bunga

Dear dear dear Pauline Anna (funny pseudonym, by the way, Polly),

Wow! You really have the jargon down. Very funny.

Jun. 19 2009 09:22 AM
Cow A. Bunga

Dear Z,

This is part of what you wrote:
"And to those people who had a knee-jerk reaction against this: refusing to engage in any discussion about religion might be as intolerant as a fundamentalist completely rejecting discussion about evolution.

You shouldn’t fear what you don’t agree with, as long as it’s posed as a point of discussion rather than dogma."

Well, Z, don't presume that reasonable people who find religion distasteful are either fearful or that they have misunderstood something. This podcast was a sermon, not a discussion. It was, therefore closer to dogma than discussion by a substantial margin. The only thing I fear about religion is its followers, who abandon reason for illusory comfort, and VERY OFTEN impose their beliefs onto others, including minors who should be protected from such intellectually debilitating shite. Everything else about religion, being fake, false, a sham, is not to be feared; just ignored.

As for your wrap-up, "Thanks, Robert. You made me think. That’s a good thing.", are you mentally retarded? Are you out of practice at "thinking"?

Please realize I am trying to help you. If you cannot see that, then keep an eye out for the next comet to heaven; I think it's due any day now.

Jun. 19 2009 09:16 AM
Cow A. Bunga

Listen, Martha:
You wrote this:
"Add me to the list of atheists who found
this astonishing and beautiful."

You are on my list of people who wouldn't know awesome from ho-hum, but feels the need to use superlative language to describe the ordinary. Astonishing is a word that should be saved for astonishing things. If you were truly astonished by this boring sermon, then welcome back from your feral imprisonment. Beautiful... really? Why did you even bother weighing in on this? Your opinion is either wrong or just useless.

You are welcome, for the good advice. No need to respond.

Jun. 19 2009 09:06 AM
Yellow Gray

I was so upset by this. I thought Radio Lab was all about Science. Please don't disappoint me again. I don't want to hear bible stories or tell my friends to listen to bible stories.
I am also incredibly offended when people try to make comparisons of people's emotions and decisions today to fictional characters.
If you are gonna do a religious piece like this...put a warning on it.

*Note of Interest..Noah also forgot Pegasus' and Centaurs..not to mention Alf's and Snufalufagus'.

Jun. 17 2009 08:07 PM

What utter rot. I am with those who question this particular Radiolab offering's appropriateness in a show about science. There was nothing astonishing or beautiful in outlining the human condition as one where we just sit and hope in silence. It sounds suspiciously like what those who use religion to control others want us to do. Those atheists above who were moved should have been horrified by the comments of this sermon.

Our evolved intelligence should not be squandered on such inanity. Instead it should be used to enlighten and wake people up. Those who attempt to control us (whether via religion, an unfair economic system, or through control of the media), should have the truths of science thrown in their faces as counter-evidence to the myths they propound. Science and knowledge in general should be used to educate and fight those who want us to be controlled or controllable.

Jun. 14 2009 05:48 PM

Add me to the list of atheists who found this astonishing and beautiful. Thank you.

Jun. 14 2009 04:26 AM

I am an atheist who normally feels very uncomfortable when people speak passionately about religion, but found the "In Silence" podcast enthralling.

This was not a story on faith as much as it was a commentary on human nature. Analyzing the bible as allegory can be philosophically just as interesting as exploring why we would pull a lever but not push a man off a bridge to save five others (e.g. the Morality show).

RadioLab is more than a science show, it's about philosophy and the "big questions" which we need to acknowledge people think about in different ways. I might have taken issue had this been a one-hour official show, but this is exactly what the extra podcasts are for. It's nice to have some variety to challenge your thinking.

And to those people who had a knee-jerk reaction against this: refusing to engage in any discussion about religion might be as intolerant as a fundamentalist completely rejecting discussion about evolution.

You shouldn't fear what you don't agree with, as long as it's posed as a point of discussion rather than dogma.

Thanks, Robert. You made me think. That's a good thing.

May. 31 2009 01:12 PM
Pauline Anna

Dear Laura,

I see your statement about being an atheist, but I also noted your desire to know more about hoping for something that is very hard to believe in.

I hope your open-mindedness toward faith can be extended to open-heartedness, and to an invitation of our Lord Jesus Christ into you, body, mind, heart and soul.

I am excited that you see the obvious need to study the Holy Bible, and I also feel I must guide you somewhat away from "interpretation". The Scriptures in the Bible, both Old- and New-Testament, need no interpretation, because they are THE Words of THE Holy Spirit. God would never mislead those he created in his own image (yes, you are like God!), and loved so much that He sent His only Son, Our Savior, Jesus Christ to save us from eternal damnation.

I must also warn you about Greek Mythology. While it may be useful to know against what one must guard oneself, like paganism, idolatry, and distasteful behaviors, The Holy Bible and its teachings must not be confused or commingled with the stuff of myth. The Bible teaches 100% truth, 100% of the time. Now all you need is 100% acceptance of The Word, so you may witness the change in yourself; the entry of God into the empty space you know waits for Him to fill!

I thank God for sending your message of seeking and uncertainty to a place I could see it (this is another glorious miracle; evidence that He loves you enough to send me to you), so I may act as your surrogate shepherd, until such time as you beg His forgivenesses, and baptise yourself into the line outside the door to His Kingdom! You know about "velvet ropes", right? Think of baptism by His Holy Blood as your "back stage pass" into Heaven, without needing to know anyone but Him, and that is so very simple. Be annointed, and be saved.

I pray for your salvation. Praise Jesus.

May. 21 2009 05:33 PM

I love this piece. I was upset to see all the negative comments. As an atheist, I can see the beauty in the bible stories the same way I see the beauty in Greek mythology. These stories are of course worth studying and interpreting.
I love the idea of hoping for something that is very hard to believe in.

May. 18 2009 12:28 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari

Holy friggin crap-in-hell!!! What is UP with this Eric guy talking about his 10-year-old boy???!!!

ALARM BELLS, MO FOs!!! Get that kid away from Eric and FAST.


May. 14 2009 12:20 AM
Pauline Anna

Dear Concerned,

Thank you for your wishes of good luck, but I won't really need luck with Jesus Christ in my corner! Something troubles me though. I am not sure what you mean about invoking my personal beliefs. I know what I wrote, which is really at least half written by the Lord speaking through me, is my mission, and isn't something I can separate (I wouldn't want to either) from my point. If you "feel" that religious beliefs should be kept private, then I wish to offer you the chance to let the Holy Spirit fill you, and to push those feelings away.

Anyone touched by Him, filled by Him, nourished by Him, needs to spread His Word. I am glad you picked up on my mention of demons, and enquired about that. To be specific, the demons who seek to distract and entice us away from from God, who use subtle tricks and secular camoflage, are true minions of Satan, the beast himself. I never feel awkward when dealing with such evil, whether it be manifested obviously or not. I feel the strength that God has placed within me to fight these demons and to help others recognize them and their ways, that they may expel them from their hearts and minds. I hope you have the ability to understand this, or that you may come to know what I mean, with His intervention.

This podcast, as everything in existence, having been created by God Himself, must be recognized for God's Holy Purpose within it. A good example is Eric's 10-year-old son, mentioned in this web log. It is obvious that the "sense" Eric's son used to express that he was moved by this was heaven-sent, a gift from Our Savior.

I wish you many true blessings from our Lord. I will pray for you.

Praise Jesus.

May. 14 2009 12:11 AM

I listened to this first alone in my car, and then I shared it with my 10-year old son driving through western Colorado. Even he had the sense to call this "moving". If nothing else, you have certainly generated some deep discussion on the purpose of the show, and the solemness of silence. I thought it was brilliant.

May. 13 2009 09:13 PM

This is not a "science" show. This is a show about people trying to understand the world that they live in. Thank you Robert, for giving a perspective of how people have, and still do, understand suffering all over the world. Thank you for allowing us to debate whether or not this is a valid way to view suffering. Thank you for using stories that are old, stories that people have wrestled with for thousands of years. Science rarely asks questions about morality, partly because it has little to say. I wish someone would have discussed morality a little bit more before creating H-Bombs.

May. 13 2009 04:12 PM

This piece was so beautiful! As a Quaker, it particularly struck me, as we spend our worship "in silence". Is there any way I can get a transcript?


May. 12 2009 09:27 PM

It's just occurred to me that Robert made a burnt offering of the show. Did god make you do it Robert?
BTW I normally love the show, please don't ever do this again.

May. 12 2009 07:49 PM

I listen to Radio Lab for interesting stories about science. I could turn on the 700 club if I wanted to turn my brain off. Get this god crap off the show.

May. 12 2009 07:48 PM


Your point could have been made without invoking your personal beliefs. Some people were rude and out of line in their ciriticisms of this podcast. Others were thoughtful and offered insight.

To me, religious and spiritual beliefs should be personal and private. Enjoy yours. Others will choose to enjoy the lack thereof in their lives.

Bringing up "demons" without explaining what you think they are... made your post awkward.

Best of luck to you.

May. 12 2009 01:47 PM
Pauline Anna

You people who criticize this program have been turned by demons away from God. What Robert wrote was truly inspired, and indicates the divine hand of our Lord in his words. Robert could not have done this without Him. As a Judeo-Christian, I was so moved by this sermon that I now know Robert is truly one of the chosen, as long as he continues his journey toward Christ's New Testament, and witnesses before a true baptism. I pray that Robert's soul may thus be cleansed, and that he may share in the reward of the Kingdom with others like us.

I am so grateful to God for the direction to which He has pointed Robert. The amazing, beautiful, solemn and sublime words of this sermon inspired me to prostrate myself before God for much of the time I listened, rapt and awed, at the wondrous truths God spoke through Robert.

Thank you. God bless you. Praise Jesus.

May. 12 2009 10:01 AM

What is there to admire here? Nothing.
The God of the bible is a cruel, horrible, petty monster. Simple fact.

May. 11 2009 08:38 PM
Long time fan dissapointed

This being a public, open, feedback forum, I too offer my perspective on this show, only with the hopes that it gets to the eyes and ears of the creators/producers. Simply put: I didn't like it. The title "Silence" was very appealing and I spent the entire show sifting through Robert's seemingly very personal and religious monologue to find the what/why of the show. The whole thing seemed very un-journalistic by focusing solely on his perspective of a very controversial subject, with far too many interpretations. Robert has been a very likable character in the Radiolab world for me, but here he seemed obnoxious and self-appeasing... making me question: is the purpose of this show to serve the public or to serve its creators/hosts?

May. 11 2009 06:56 PM
Reverend Short

Dear Dr Rev Long,

Thanks for the inspiration! You are obviously very very smart, and I consider what you have written to be proof enough of God's bountiful grace! Praise Jesus!

Rev Short

May. 11 2009 11:19 AM
Doctor Reverend Long, PhD

Dear Reverend Short,

I hold multiple doctorates in theology, economics, creation science and the chiropractic arts.

Doctor Reverend Long

May. 11 2009 11:16 AM
Reverend Short

Dear Reverend Long,

Are you really a doctor? What are you a doctor of?

Reverend Short

May. 11 2009 11:14 AM
Reverend Long, PhD

Dear Reverend Short,

Please do not give our calling away a bad name.

Dr Rev Long

May. 11 2009 11:12 AM
Reverend Short

Hugh, Don't be so upset. Do what I did; start your own religion. Make it seem good, make good money from people who are dying to give it to you, and don't pay taxes. You don't even have to be creative; it's all been done before. If you don't someone else will.

Lots of money, no taxes, babes too.

May. 11 2009 11:06 AM
Hugh Manbein

Religion is dangerous.

Those of you who thought this sermon was artistic or beautiful, or just an essay, or "amazing" are the kind of people who allow intolerance to flourish. Some of you fools will go on to believe such lies, and some of those will go on to preach them.

Being open-minded does not need to translate to being a dupe.

Grow up.

May. 11 2009 10:47 AM
Rev. David Huber

I found this to be a beautiful, thoughtful, and amazing and honest/caring exploration through a terrible text. I especially love the mentions that silence received.

This is easily the most profound and moving sermon on the binding of Isaac I've ever heard.

Christian preachers tend to do a very poor job with this story because they too quickly move to "And then God provided his son, Jesus, and that makes everything okay!" and skip having any kind of serious encounter with or digging into the terror and awfulness of what Abraham was asked to do. We can see this attitude in some of the above responses from what I assume are Christians.

Kudos to you, Robert.

And thank you.

May. 11 2009 10:20 AM
Amy Davenport

I enjoy the scientific presentations of Radiolab tremendously, but I do appreciate a good story. It all has valid entertainment value, all informative in one way or another and at the very least makes me think. Although I am very skeptical of God and religion and Jesus and the Bible and its teachings, I enjoy the stories and take from them what I can. Thank you for sharing this one. You really got me with the music at the end.

May. 11 2009 09:49 AM

After this episode Radio Lab is now OFF of my podcast feed. Long live NPR Science Friday for REAL science!!!

May. 10 2009 06:18 AM
Austin Warren

I wonder if RadioLab will acknowledge any of our feedback. Jad was moved to apologize for ironically and humorously saying, "Bitches!" Will Robert give a sincere apology for this mistake?

May. 09 2009 02:34 PM
Linda Mooring

I agree with Todd. I initially found beauty in this piece, but I kept waiting for Jad to mention that he's learned something, anything from previous broadcasts. Yet he makes no reference to Radio Lab's marvelous, superb, sublime program on morality in which you show how our brains navigate the difficult roads of morality. In that show, you posed an excellent example of morality involving a bridge and train tracks, people on the tracks, and the ultimate problem of throwing a switch to save five people even if it means sacrificing one person. But if switching the track involved actually touching a human and throwing that human to his death (to throw the switch), that was it, no one would toss that one human in order to save the five people on the tracks.

I waited for Jad to explain that we can’t find any morality in the bible. Because the ancients could have written that passage entirely differently and even so today we’d still find some amazingly devotional meaning of faithfulness. Consider: if the ancients had written that passage so that Abraham does kill Isaac and in fact, the first son that Abraham ignored was to be the one honored, if the passage had been written this way we’d be waxing poetic about how God was showing Abraham about the immorality of ignoring his other son.

But no. Jad didn’t do these things.

Most importantly what Jad didn’t do was point out the dangers of finding something wonderful in these passages. Because as much as people believe that Abraham was a wonderful man in his undying faith, so too did the 9/11 attackers believe that similar passages of their Koran gave them the moral responsibility to murder thousands of people by flying airplanes into buildings. It's no different.

There is a lot of beauty in the world, but to struggle to find meaning in some of these ancient teachings would be like living by a strict reading of Deuteronomy.

May. 07 2009 04:39 PM
Todd Barton

This episode saddened me. I love Radiolab for the great job it does in helping us understand ourselves and the cosmos we live in. Yet, this was an episode that advocates substituting faith for understanding; to be silent rather than ask the questions that lead to understanding. By the end, I felt like a primitive hunter-gatherer huddled around the tribal fire as the shaman intoned a sacred myth.

I prefer being amazed that intelligence evolved at all to the confusion/anger/despair that it is regularly snuffed out according to some unknowable grand plan. The loud, joyous expression of gratitude for being able to experience another incredible day - for all days are incredible in a cosmos where life accidentally evolves - is much more exhilarating than the silent, desperate hope that tragedy will someday be redeemed by a wise god. The remembrance of treasured moments with loved ones are immensely more uplifting than believing those loved ones were intentionally taken from us, no matter how noble the reason may have been.

For even the strongest, most unwavering faith can't overcome the insidious realization that an omnipotent, omniscient god doesn't need us and thus that reason cannot possibly be noble. He doesn't get bored, doesn't need someone to love or keep Him amused, and doesn’t need to wait for a plan to play out for anybody or any reason. By embracing that realization, we are freed from the conflict of struggling against it. Oh, the ecstasy!

It’s disappointing that Robert reveres that denial and uses the Radiolab soapbox to encourage others to suffer its clammy embrace. Please, Radiolab, go back to nurturing my understanding of - and wonder at - this fantastic cosmos of ours and never return to the dark world of futile ignorance this episode inflicted upon me.

May. 07 2009 02:39 PM
Angie Wittenberg

This was absolutely beautiful. I wanted to share it with everyone I know but it occurred to me that just about everyone I know would be offended by one element of the story or another. Wonderful!

Having read these comments, I am inclined to write an essay on whether or not this podcast is appropriate content for Radiolab. I wonder what I would conclude. Either way, it made my day.

Thank you so much.

May. 07 2009 11:00 AM
Maree Q. Kontrari


response to [Comment from Gregg, Date: April 29, 2009, 2:53 pm]


"Robert: Nice work, it was a beautiful essay.

Rest of you: Shut up already."


May. 06 2009 09:57 AM
Pastor Robert

Damn the torpedoes, Robert! What a beautifully wrought piece of art.

May. 05 2009 05:40 PM

I wonder if Jad and Robert are ever going to comment on the backlash to this episode. It has hundreds more comments than any other Radio lab episode. Maybe they just don't care.

May. 05 2009 12:52 PM
gerald berke

Clearly, clearly, the guy hearing the voice of god was crazy. It is a wonderful story, but the guy could have killed his son.
A god that tests like that? how many people will then do the completely irrational because god is testing them.
Funny stuff for radiolab, but I'll listen to Krulwich reading the phonebook and what's more, I'll learn something new :-)

May. 04 2009 06:46 PM

Brave, but misplaced.

15 minutes of Robert's sermon surrounded by 45 minutes exploring the scientific/cultural implications of that sermon would have been appropriate...

This is the first show I've abandoned without finishing.

Ultimately, if _this_ is what RadioLab consisted of, it wouldn't be the cultural phenomenon that it is.

May. 01 2009 01:56 PM

God made child rapists.

Apr. 30 2009 07:52 PM

I just wanted to register my disappointment. I kept waiting for the sermon to become relevant, be compared to another fable of another culture, or be tied to something scientific and it never did. I'm afraid Radio Lab unfortunately dropped a peg in my esteem-o-meter because of this episode. I felt like I was in shul, and ultimately I felt bored, betrayed, and angry. I liked Jad's "bitches!" comment, hated this. I'd be interested in hearing Jad and Robert's reactions to this comment storm, however.

Apr. 30 2009 07:42 PM

I think E. Gregor nailed it: Listeners of Radio Lab revel in the Socratic format Radio Lab adopts with creative soundscapes, intercutting interviews into a dialogue rather than talking heads and both hilarious and haunting dramatizations. As Robert Krulwich concluded his poetic retelling of these two Bible stories with a solemn grace emphasizing silence, listeners were apt to expect quandaries into the silence observed by Tibetan and Shaolin monks during meditation, and the universal importance of silence in all religions. Listeners may have expected discussion with neurologists who have studied the fMRIs of monks, with practitioners who observed the positive heath effect of mediation in cancer treatment and the observation that mediation stimulates the release of endorphins that counter the perception of pain and promote sensations of well-being. Listeners may have been revved up for scientific trials comparing the brain activity of sleep and dreams to that of meditation, revealing meditation as a unique state of consciousness. Listeners may have followed Jab and Robert in exploring how mediation stimulates opiates as do drugs, internal stimulation versus external stimulation of opiates leading to the humorous yet apparent reflection on the Marxist adage, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” As Radio Lab has ventured into the potential function of opiates in the mind in previous shows this exploration wouldn’t be too jarring for listeners.

Radio Lab has a meandering style that allows the listeners to almost daydream through philosophical questions and consideration of how developments in medicine, psychology, neurology and astrology reveal aspects of these philosophical musings. Therefore it perhaps came as a surprise to Radio Lab listeners that a podcast entitled, “In Silence” didn’t explore technologies being developed to sound proofing homes, concert halls, and stealth warships. Listeners may have waited to be launched into the vacuum of outer space where there is no sound. Did the Big Bang bang? Ironically human radio waves are now populating outer space carrying information that can be decoded into everything from Richard R. Murrow’s voice and reports of Dr, King’s and JFK’s assassination to Kanye West and U2. Would aliens chuckle at “War of the Worlds” that infamous radio drama which caused mass hysteria? Is anyone even out there to hear the songs “Out of the Silent Planet” the human song from jazz to orchestral? At this point, listeners may have themselves wondered, just as Jab or Robert voiced (which so delightfully often happens) the question, if a tree falls in an empty forest, does it make a sound? Is the practice of humans sitting in silence, be it the prayer of a Judo-Christian tradition or the meditation of Hindu and Buddhism, the act of the conscious observer tapping into that silent presence of the universe, appreciating it, acknowledging it and ourselves.

I think we have all been listening to Radio Lab for the past three years (coming on four years) because through all the Socratic exploration at times astonishing and at times introspective, Radio Lab has given its listeners the freedom and joy of deciding on our own the source of the mystery and awe in this vast universe and this wondrous, tumultuous journey of life. Apparently if you sequester that mystery to either a God or the function of an incidental yet tenacious universe you steal the individual’s freedom to marvel and that choice to marvel in God or in the universe or in both is furiously defended in this post. Radio Lab, your listeners are eager and vocal and hold your show in the highest regard, what better compliment and responsibility have you dug yourself into? Enjoy it; few artworks reach such heights.

Ah, now I’ve called this science show art!

Apr. 30 2009 05:40 PM

@ Gregg:

Got any more ad hominems, you fu#|...

I'm just kidding dude, I was just so moved by your comments. You are a powerful asset in this court of public opinion...

Give us all a lesson. Educate us - what else should we do? Shut up; what else?

Apr. 30 2009 02:16 PM

Oops! My favorite radio show/podcast just jumped into the middle of the "Culture War". This compelling but misguided episode is more requiring of an apology that Jad's "Bitches" shout-out.

Apr. 30 2009 11:36 AM
E. Gregor

It seems to me that the trouble people have with this particular episode is in the different format you used.

I, like many others, don't appreciate the religious topic. I live in America. Therefore i live in an overwhelmingly christian nation and have heard these stories numerous times. That in itself wouldn't necessarily be a problem.

The problem seems to be that this is a straight lecture/sermon. The usual format of radio lab is absent. There are no other views, opinions, or any other voice for that matter. I believe it would have been interesting and thought provoking for all of your listeners if the usual format had been followed. One person reading an opinion piece is not the normal format that has endeared people to the show.

In addition to more points of view, there needed to be a point to examining religious doctrine. It seems you missed an opportunity to compare this topic to some real world current topic. For instance, maybe you could have examined how this glimpse of insanity from the christian religion could have been placed next to doctrine from some other religion in and effort to understand how doctrine can shape peoples and nations. This would be presented by scholars and professors.

That at least would be in line with your normal format.

Apr. 30 2009 03:22 AM

Wow -- I just listened to the podcast and was moved enough to find the RadioLab site to offer congrats to Robert K., but Jeez, I never would have guessed what a bunch of loud mouthed morons listen to this show. I had hoped I was in better company than this motley, self-righteous lot.

Personally, I'm not a believer in the whole God/organized religion thing, but that doesn't mean I lack an appreciation for the sort of study and thinking creation myths (even our beloved Judeo-Christian ones) can inspire.

Robert: Nice work, it was a beautiful essay.

Rest of you: Shut up already.

Apr. 29 2009 02:53 PM



Apr. 28 2009 08:03 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari

Dearest Chev,
response to [Comment from Chev Date: April 27, 2009, 7:06 pm]


"It takes a great amount of skill
to write a good sermon, and Robert
somehow managed to make it sound easy."

Chev, It sounded easy because it sounded thrown together. If you write from experience, as a sermon writer, you would know this to be basic sermon-101 stuff. If you have no experience, then your opinion is not really worth much, is it?

"I was moved by the emotion and power of the story."

Chev, I have noticed many people using very descriptive words where none are needed; possibly in an attempt to be part of something meaningful when life is not enough, or because no one listens until you exaggerate. You were "moved"? C'mon, now. The emotion was simulated, and the power was piped in. This snoozer would have cured insomnia. Puh-leeze.

"There are valuable lessons in how to live one’s life to be found everywhere; looking to an alternative source now and then won’t hurt."

Chev! Get your head outta yer arse! Looking to religion is precisely what has hurt AND KILLED so many people. Don't write it if you haven't thought it out. There are other feeble-mindeds out there who fall into each others' traps, so stop being one of them. Some "valuable lessons" are what NOT to do.

Apr. 28 2009 07:51 PM





Apr. 28 2009 07:26 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari

Dear MH,

response to [Comment from MH, Date: April 24, 2009, 7:36 pm]

You wrote:

"I’m an avid athiest that is always ready to dismiss bible stories. I was surprised to hear this on RadioLab, but Robert presents the stories well. And for all you haters out there - try to get past the fact that it’s a bible story and just listen to the story. That’s all it is - a story. It’s a story about people who had more faith than any of us modern, RadioLab listening folks could ever muster up for something we couldn’t see, touch, or even understand."

I will address a few of your points here:

1. No one needs to be "avid" about atheism. It is as simple as not believing in something that doesn't exist. Takes no real thought, except to dismiss fantasy when presented with it.

2. It is just my opinion, but I don't think Robert presented this particularly well. It wasn't even "inspired" from a religion-y angle. Boring even for a sermon.

3. You are right; it's just a story. Maybe it is a fictional story. Scary if this is an actual, historical account of an event that (almost) took place, right? I'll never know without a time machine. I would go to Abraham and yell at him to stop what he is doing. Hmm...

4. By your last sentence, are you implying that it is virtuous to "muster up faith for something we couldn’t see, touch, or even understand"? If you are, then you ought to join a religion. THEN you could be avid, and use all the unnecessary language you want. May I recommend Pentecostal? They don't even need actual words or language; just nattering chatter. Talk about not understanding something.

Apr. 28 2009 07:14 PM







Apr. 28 2009 06:58 PM
Garrett Brown

The reason Robert, is that their is no reason. I fail to see the beauty in a story describing how schizophrenia becomes dogma.

Apr. 28 2009 03:46 PM

I wonder what the National Science Foundation and the Alfred P Sloan Foundation (2 major sponsors of radiolab) thought of the sermon.

Krulwich picked the immoral story of Abraham to present in his sermon. God rewards Abraham for his blind faith. Abraham chose to attempt to murder his son. God was toying with Abraham the whole time. Apparently if someone just shuts up despite there being obvious reasons to object, God saves you a prime seat in heaven. I hope that some day I too can attempt to murder my son, and then have God stop me right at the last second so that Krulwich can tell me what a great person I am for not questioning my actions.

Attempting to extract any nugget of a positive message from the story of Abraham and Isaac is near impossible. Coming away from this story with God sanctioned immoral behavior is a piece of cake.

Apr. 28 2009 01:30 PM
Amanda Black

Thank you for this meditation.

Apr. 28 2009 10:20 AM

Aren't we inundated enough with the "beliefs" of the irrational/credulous in our society? I had thought of Radio Lab as a respite from this sort of thing...the annoying, repetitive delivery doesn't help either.

Apr. 28 2009 12:18 AM

It takes a great amount of skill to write a good sermon, and Robert somehow managed to make it sound easy. I was moved by the emotion and power of the story.

Yes, this is usually a science-related program, but I think it's always a good thing to step back from the microscope and look at the whole human tapestry. There are valuable lessons in how to live one's life to be found everywhere; looking to an alternative source now and then won't hurt.

Apr. 27 2009 07:06 PM

Robert, Jad,

Guys, Love your show. I am sure this podcast must have been a tough one. Pretty sure the number of comments for this podcast far outnumber any other I have seen! (Perhaps you should do a podcast on flame wars on the internet someday, especially faith related!)

My sister, who too is an avid listener, mailed me about this podcast and how she loved how you guys put it together. I started listening to it, tired and sleepy, very late on a Sunday night, but couldnt stop till it ended.

Neither of us is a Christian, we enjoyed listening to it as a story, a very engaging story and the idea you were presenting.

Look forward to the next podcast and the next season!

Apr. 27 2009 06:53 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari



"I thought this overwhelming silence
was the point of the podcast. This
point, in its essence, seems
rigorously scientific to me."




Apr. 27 2009 02:57 PM

The opposite of an earworm. I sat through about 15 minutes of this waiting, waiting, waiting. This is by far the worst Radiolab experience I've ever had. I don't mind the topic of religion. I don't even mind the story of Abraham. But this was a terrible and overwhelmingly dull podcast. Please don't make me waste Kbps and my time with another. Keep up the good work on everything else.

Apr. 27 2009 01:16 PM

What can we humans say, with nothing else than our scientific mind, about the fundamental cause of Existence (of the universe, of forces such as gravity, of life, of consciousness)?

What do we humans hear, when we turn to the universe for explanations (about catastrophes that affect our lives, for example)?


I thought this overwhelming silence was the point of the podcast. This point, in its essence, seems rigorously scientific to me.

Apr. 27 2009 12:40 AM
Judy Punch

Well, that went over like a turd in a punch bowl.

Apr. 25 2009 01:59 PM
chris morris


that may have been the most beautiful and stunning essay i've ever heard. i was grocery shopping at 6am and literally just leaned against a wall and listened.

thank you.

Apr. 25 2009 09:49 AM

What is this? I have no religious background, and to me this sounds like another language. I don't understand a word he is saying, it's just babbling.

I've only been listening for 6 minutes, but I've gotten NOTHING out of it. So if it doesn't start to speak English in the next few minutes I'm turning it off.

Someone fire that guy please. There was something nice about radiolab. But this show does not fit. It's not anywhere near the same thing. What happened?

He's still rambling about nonsense. I'm done. Bye.

Apr. 24 2009 10:41 PM

I'm an avid athiest that is always ready to dismiss bible stories. I was surprised to hear this on RadioLab, but Robert presents the stories well. And for all you haters out there - try to get past the fact that it's a bible story and just listen to the story. That's all it is - a story. It's a story about people who had more faith than any of us modern, RadioLab listening folks could ever muster up for something we couldn't see, touch, or even understand.

Apr. 24 2009 07:36 PM

Jad, why did you not prevent this from happening? What an incredibly disappointing episode! On the other hand I'm happy to see that many others are as displeased (to say the least) as I am.

It might be worth devoting a future episode to investigating (in the usual RadioLab way though) why humans, in this case Robert, can spend an hour trying to fit an ancient, inhumane story that preaches sacrifice and murder and blind obidience to immoral commands to modern moral standards, thereby ironically attributing their discovery of such (opposite!) values as empathy and love to the malicious content of that very story. All this without even considering an outside perspective on a)their belief system nor b)the origin of the story. There might be an underlying psychological principle to discover.

Apr. 24 2009 03:29 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari

[Comment from I’m Not Going to Use the Word ‘Jihad’ - Date: April 21, 2009, 2:54 am]

"As someone heavily and sometimes
stridently on the “Science” side
of the culture war, it’s really
troubling to me how dogmatic “my
side” is getting in calumniating
this episode."

Dear over-reactor,

Firstly, nice use of the thesaurus. I had to look up "calumniate". Now I know another word.

Secondly, to use the word "dogmatic" to describe those who are displeased with the sermon is a thin attempt to turn the tables without really justifying yourself (which is why I'll bet you used the "calumniating").

I say burn 'em at the stake. NOW you may use the word "dogmatic" in a sentence, and may express how TROUBLED you are.

Apr. 24 2009 12:38 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari

re [Comment from Chris Date: April 23, 2009, 12:38 am]


Too many won’t see this as science…I do, because in silence ideas are born and questions are asked. Long before there is excitement with colleagues.

So glad YOU see this as science.

It isn't, by the way, so you are wrong.

Just making something up doesn't make it so.

Apr. 24 2009 12:28 PM

You guys usually do fantastic, engaging shows, but this one stunned me. Jad, I’m sure that Robert is a good friend, but he used this episode to preach a sermon. Can you imagine the outcry if you (Jad) had preached a sermon about God’s transcendent but inscrutable love for the prophet Mohammed? You would have been run out of town in a New York minute.

Consider the following report, as detailed byLive Science:
“A comparison of peoples' views in 34 countries finds that the United States ranks near the bottom when it comes to public acceptance of evolution. Only Turkey ranked lower.
Among the factors contributing to America's low score are poor understanding of biology, especially genetics, the politicization of science and the literal interpretation of the Bible by a small but vocal group of American Christians, the researchers say.
American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalist, which is why Turkey and we are so close,” said study co-author Jon Miller of Michigan State University.”

When previously engaging science shows like RadioLab start to preach sermons about Abraham and Isaac, it doesn’t make me hopeful that we will reverse the shocking national trend of ignorance about science.

You guys have done many great shows, and I hope you soon return to form.

Apr. 24 2009 06:19 AM

Wow. What a croak of shit!

Like cosmology and a load of religious nuttery belong on the same podcast.

You have disappointed a lot of listeners, Krulwich.

Apr. 23 2009 06:56 PM

Too many won't see this as science...I do, because in silence ideas are born and questions are asked. Long before there is excitement with colleagues.

And when painful things happen in our world the questions of why a species is dying and there are no answers.

Often in life, there are questions...with no answers.

Thank you for a beautiful use of language and thoughts.

Apr. 23 2009 12:38 AM

Too many won't see this as science...I do, because in silence ideas are born and questions are asked. Long before there is excitement with colleagues.

And when painful things happen in our world the questions of why a species is dying and there are no answers.

Often in life, there are questions...with no answers.

Apr. 23 2009 12:37 AM

I agree that this podcast is out of place. On the other hand I was not surprised, I have been jarred by some of Robert's faith-based comments on past shows.

Since I have listened to the podcast I feel like I should comment on the ideas presented. I have read the bible many times over and have found some of the stories profound and moving. The story of Abraham was always a story that disturbed me.
Robert says that what made Abraham sacrifice his son in silence was hope in God's plan. It is exactly this thinking that allows people to justify raping, killing, etc in the name of their religion. Why should I look for wisdom in a story that instructs people of the three major religions to shift the blame for the world's wrongdoings onto God?

I wonder if this is how Mr. Krulwich chooses to live his life, silently disagreeing with the choices his God wants him to make. We should place our hope not in God, but in our fellow man to stand up for what is just and undo the silence.

Apr. 22 2009 09:46 PM
Rachel in Seattle

I haven't read all the comments here, but I wanted to add my two cents.

I am an atheist and was first confused by this. As I continued to listen, I appreciated Robert's questions of blind faith, which are rare to hear from a believer. By the end, I was glad that I had a chance to hear it.

I think those who are upset about this should realize that the podcast is different from the regular show and that RadioLab would never replace their normal show with this kind of content. The beauty of the podcast/internet is the ability to express sentiments that don't fit in the normal vehicle.

Apr. 22 2009 01:55 PM


You ask why you are here?: I can tell you why your here.

To procreate. Then you die.

It is yet another dizzying display of arrogance to think that your "purpose" has any higher meaning than the simplest life form on this planet.


You ask "Why is the rose red?", well it's not. It's more green than red. We see it as red because thats how we process the light reflected from it. It may very well be that the earth looks much, much different to the MAJORITY of inhabitants of it. We know that the honey be sees brilliant UV patterns on flowers that humans cannot.


You contend that things on this earth went "appreciated" until humans came around. Ask the bower bird if aesthetics are unimportant, he's been building sculptures long before humans were here.

Why, oh, why do humans perceive themselves as the only inhabitants with self awareness. Ill tell you why, naiveté of youth.

This mind set is propagated in the bible, yet another reason religion is "saving" mankind, and giving us permission to destroy the planet.


Apr. 21 2009 12:26 PM

Radiolab crew --

The story of Abraham has always been an intriguing one for me. I teach philosophy and his trial is important to both Kierkegaard and Sartre. For the former Abraham is an example of the "knight of faith" and for the latter he is one who truly experiences "existential anguish."

But like you said the important concept in your story was silence. The silence of the animals left behind, the silence of Abraham in response to Isaac. The silence that comes when there are no answers.

(Perhaps all of my classes should end on that note, because rarely do I provide the students with any actual answers!)

It's an important concept to grasp and something that Kierkegaard took on elsewhere in his work. Coming to grips with the idea of the "infinite" in particular.

Anyway, nicely done. I've always thought of Radiolab as an explorer of concepts and this one was explored very eloquently.


Apr. 21 2009 08:46 AM

don't post this crap on radiolab, please.

it was really boring, if I want a religion podcast, I'll subscribe to one

so, start a new podcast, like radiosermon or radiojesus or whatever. Don't ruin RadioLab by adding all this BS religious dogma. PLEASE!!

Robert, I'll forgive you if you never do this again. Do it again, and I'll start a boycott for RadioLab and we'll write all of your sponsors.

Apr. 21 2009 07:42 AM
Damion P.

holy piss, this was the worst podcast of them all.

Please, never read bible stories again. There was no big question, there was no critical analysis. I'm embarrassed now, because I've spoken to so many people about this podcast, and now everyone's going to think I enjoy sick-twisted bible stories about just how crazy abraham is and how nasty god of the old testament is.

Apr. 21 2009 07:38 AM
I'm Not Going to Use the Word 'Jihad'

As someone heavily and sometimes stridently on the "Science" side of the culture war, it's really troubling to me how dogmatic "my side" is getting in calumniating this episode.

Apr. 21 2009 02:54 AM

I recommended this podcast to some of my science colleagues. After listening to the latest episode I had to call to apologize.

Apr. 20 2009 09:47 PM

Should we analyse the lord of the rings too? Or perhaps narnia

Apr. 20 2009 06:10 PM

beautifully crafted essay (or sermon). i will chime in to say we (so many of us) really love what radiolab does, and want to support you, including your experimentation of style and content.

this american life is a wonderful show, and the show structure works really well, but this kind of experimentation isn't there.

thank you for adding this sermon to radiolab and showing a different side of yourself robert.

Apr. 20 2009 01:02 PM

I listened with interest to Robert's take on this story. I'm not surprised that he couldn't make sense of it -- no one has yet. (I don't think that was his purpose anyway.)

This story shows as starkly as anything the difference between humanist/nontheistic morality and moral guidance derived from a supernatural source.

In fact, Penn Jillette uses this story as a litmus test for theism. Paraphrasing:

If your God told you to kill your own child, what would you do?

If you'd refuse, then you're basically an atheist.

If you'd do it, then you're a believer -- and stay the hell away from me!

(search for the video using "Penn Says" and "Definitions")

Apr. 20 2009 12:01 PM
Maree Q. Kontrari

One more for Robert Krulwich.

Most of my comments were directed toward other bloggers and their use of extreme language and flawed logic. Pardon me for rudeness in some of my responses.

But to you I want to express my opinion of this podcast. I think it sounded like sermons I have heard before, including an artificial connection of the concept of silence to the bible stories. The bible stories of Noah and Abraham didn't really have much of this silence message, and it didn't strike me as significant in my copy of the old testament. That was my issue with this show, that it seemed like any "I've gotta get this sermon out tomorrow" over-night crams that the priests and monsignors I knew in my youth had to go on with by Saturday night or Sunday morning. It was standard for them to come up with some concept which could be described as profound under the right circumstances, and then flip through the bible blindly to any page and lay their finger upon the parchment. One ingredient + one ingredient = one sermon.

Silence, hope, bigger meaning, the meaning of it all, our "purpose" here, and "God's plan" are all pretty standard stuff to hear week after week in church or synagogue sermons. Forgetting that radiolab episodes are usually intellectually challenging, in my opinion, I can accept the idea that this sermon made it to your show, as the content of the sermon might challenge someone who hasn't heard one, or is at least unaccustomed to them. I can also accept that the act of presenting a sermon might be THE challenge; maybe an experiment with your listeners?

I found the blog interesting.

Apr. 19 2009 08:04 PM

I'm sorely disappointed. This piece has no place in radiolab.

I'm sorry but analyzing the verses of the bible is equivalent to making analogies based on the entrails of a chicken.

This is a sermon I would expect spewed out every sunday in churches and not in a science podcast.

Next up feel free to discuss why the bible allows "beating of slaves as long as they walk next day", advocates forced prostitution of daughters for the benefit of guests, and, mass genocide of non-christians.

Apr. 19 2009 07:26 PM
Jason Abbadon

While I was initially taken aback by the religious nature of Robert's podcast (I was expecting a much more science-related theme, of course), I went and listened to it a second time- with a more open mind.

I found it both well written and masterfully told- not what I expected but a thoughtful insight on Robert's beliefs (indeed millions of people's).
And Robert's view is as important as Jad's- it's the dynamic of both that makes the show so great, in my opinion.

Kudos to Radiolab for this podcast- they had to know that many would object, but taking chances and trying new things keeps the show from getting old.

This one's not one of my favorites but the promise of the thought provoking content keeps me recommending Radiolab to just about everyone.

Apr. 19 2009 05:01 AM
Tom Burton

I listened twice in awe of the heartfelt delivery, in sadness for the self-inflicted anguish, glad to be Buddhist.

Apr. 19 2009 04:13 AM
Andrew Kopietz

I think Radiolab is what it's creators want it to be. And as fans, scientists, whatever, you should respect that. I don't think this podcast deserves criticism for it's narrative or casual conjectures.

Give it support and leave room for an open mind. In return, Radiolab will deliver the kind coverage you expect. If anything, they should be permitted to try new and unusual ways of talking to their audience. That was it's goal from the very start. It still is.

Apr. 19 2009 01:33 AM
Sean Moore

I often listen to podcasts while working out. I've had some awkward moments when I'm in the middle of lifting and began to laugh out loud at something on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. But this is the first time I started to tear up during a work out. I never had put much thought into the fact that Abraham tried to bargain for the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah, but didn't do the same for himself. I have my own belief in the meaning behind the story but this is not my forum. I have grown to greatly admire Mr. Krulwich for being a voice of reason who does not see a conflict between religion and science, two different quests for two different truths, that do not have to exclude each other.

Apr. 18 2009 03:35 PM

I don't want to repeat the comments others have made, but in case you're counting, I found this podcast depressingly disappointing - not a topic for the usually excellent Radiolab.

Apr. 18 2009 03:26 PM

Oh - forgot to mention that my take on the silence was much like Robert's. I heard these stories when I was a kid, and I knew for a fact that not talking back didn't mean you agreed.

Apr. 18 2009 10:12 AM

Robert and Jared - much enjoyed this episode, it was an interesting counterpoint for my trip through the grocery aisles. It brought a new perspective to this show, and a new insight into the persona of Robert Krulwich. I don't usually know enough about the given subject to tell how much work went into the episode, but this one I could - a lot. Thank you both and keep 'em coming!

Apr. 18 2009 10:09 AM
Maree Kontrari

Crap, another typo to correct:


I hope Fyodor didn't just roll over in his grave...

Apr. 18 2009 10:02 AM
Maree Kontrari

[Comment from Shane
Date: April 9, 2009, 2:02 pm]

SHANE, You wrote:
"Just want to chime in that I love
the show but was pretty appalled
by this episode. The religious
zeal in Robert’s tone was pretty
terifying given the subject of
child murder. There are countless
examples of modern-day murders
who also thought God was speaking
to them. Why no mention of them?"

Before you give such exaggerated descriptions of the "terrifying zeal" in Robert's tone, and how "appalled" you were at this episode, consider sticking to the point. Be honest; Robert's tone in this episode was just as flat-line and resonant with edited-in reverb as any of his other episodes, right? I wonder if that radio intellectual sound will ever really change. People have been making fun of it at least since the mid-70s. Refer to National Lampoon Radio Hour's Gold Turkey album (or was it their That's Not Funny, That's Sick recording?) for their uncanny simulation of smartypants' talk in their bit about Dosteyevsky's The Idiot.

By the way, I agree with what you meant, so don't get defensive.

Apr. 18 2009 09:57 AM
Maree Kontrari

response to [Comment from Mark
Date: April 9, 2009, 11:46 am]

I found your comment disturbing. I can tell that logic is not your forte', so I'll stay away from it except to say that your badly written message meanders through real and imaginary ideas without distinguishing them, which will probably make you an effective minister someday.

When you wrote, " is very essence in what God is asking us to do, to think and become ever like God", are you saying God asked you do something? He didn't ask me, so please quantify how many people adds up to "us", and tell me their names, please. I'd like to do an independent study of these people to see if God said the same thing to each of them, or if it's more like a game of telephone.

Apr. 18 2009 09:38 AM
Maree Kontrari

[Comment from Jez
Date: April 9, 2009, 6:54 am]

Jez, I understand your message to "complainers", that radiolab is a free show (a gift), and that they should stop "bitching" and spend their "time creating something even half as inspirational and fascinating as any Radiolab episode"

Jez, I think you misunderstand. It is obvious that you have an elevated emotional level after having "spent time" reading the blog, but none of the complaints you read indicate that much time was spent writing them. Radiolab is not exactly the same as a gift horse into whose mouth these complainers are looking. It is a show with intellectual content, and this blog is an invitation for comments, open to everyone. I read the "complaints" as warnings to Radiolab from some of its listeners that they might stop listening if they think they are going to hear religion on the show. Radiolab can do with that whatever they like. If they can still support their show without those listeners, or decide to let their show "evolve" into different themes, then the complainers may drift away as a new audience washes ashore. Seems to be the nature of entertainment media.

If you want to say something specific about the complaints, go for it. If you want to complain about complainers, then you just became one of them. Tell yourself to stop bitching.

Apr. 18 2009 09:10 AM

Add my voice to those who found this radio theater/sermon totally worthless and without any scientific merit.

As an atheist (born into a Hindu family), I found this difficult to listen to, especially after it became obvious that this was some personal epiphany of Robert's, without any scientific connection.

Take this to a church or religion blog.

Apr. 18 2009 08:34 AM
Maree Kontrari

How do you cut to the center of the blather so reasonably, Melisa?

Apr. 18 2009 07:39 AM

How do I do what, Maree?

Apr. 17 2009 08:18 PM
Maree Kontrari

THIS is for GUY:

response to [Comment from Guy
Date: April 16, 2009, 12:35 pm]

You wrote:
"I’d just like to say Maree rules."

No, Guy, YOU rule!

Sorry for being so disagreeable.

Apr. 17 2009 07:35 PM
Maree Kontrari

So are you, Kate.
I can tell from what you wrote.

Apr. 17 2009 07:17 PM

simply beautiful

Apr. 17 2009 07:12 PM
Maree Kontrari

THERE YOU ARE MELISA! So nice to see you today.

I have an answer to your very good question, and I don't see an impasse, exactly, but more of a concession.

Firstly, I am with you on the point that Jeff used "self-respecting" to enhance his assertion, not for its literal meaning. However, I feel strongly about literal meaning when it is written (when it is spoken, I expect more mistakes, trips over emotion, thinking out loud, speaking too soon, etc.). Insinuation and contradiction leave tracks harder to cover in text, and I tend to go after things I think are lies, half-truths and disingenuous. I thought the comment was disingenuous, but I didn't get the impression that it was intentionally rude, but there's the rub; it used a flawed logic to elevate the writer above the perceived opponent, and the flaw deserved to called, like a foul ball, by me, the self-appointed umpire.

Secondly, I only mentioned the irony in Jeff's statement because I like the debate, and the words are there, locked onto the page, for me to debate leisurely, without a clock. All of the "purpose" questions, whether or not to bother asking them, whether Richard Dawkins even exists (ha), etc., don't matter to me. It would be like a mirror facing another mirror, with "why ask why?" written on one of them, but no one there to see it. (Maybe that's actually a "hell no", as you predicted, but I'm not even sure.)

I think it is A-Okay to ask oneself if there is a greater purpose. I have yet to see a (written) answer that escapes banal(real)ity. I don't really expect to, and I don't think I've asked myself that question since I was a little kid, and I live a fine life without any of it. But I sure like to argue. But, also as you adroitly point; limited argument.

How do you do it, Melisa?

Apr. 17 2009 06:28 PM

I agree with both Jeff and Maree on different points here. Jeff - I think that most people have asked themselves the "what's the purpose" question at some point in their lives. Whether they are self-respecting or not is another issue, but I take this qualfication to serve the purpose of emphasizing your point rather than a literal assertion.

Maree - Richard Dawkins would agree with you that the "what's the purpose" question has no value. I believe he would say that any type of "why" question about reality has no value, because it is based upon the assumption that there is a purpose to be had.

So I think the question that you two differ on is not "what is the purpose?" or "why think about it?" but rather "is there a purpose? and how would we know if there was?" I also think this would be a rather limited argument - Jeff would say "yes" or "maybe" and Maree would say "hell no" or something equally biting. An impass, no?

Apr. 17 2009 05:44 PM
Maree Kontrari


response to [Comment from Paul
Date: April 9, 2009, 8:07 pm]


I almost agree with everything you wrote in your comments. But, I'd like to point out the irony of the last point you made (with which I can't agree):

"It would be great to think
that there is a higher power
at work here. That’s hope. For otherwise there is only ourselves
and therefore WE are responsible
for what we have done. Not pretty."

The hope described is actually what I think the negativity mongers have the problem with; that it seems like an excuse meant to relieve the conscience of someone who doesn't accept responsibility for their actions. The ironic part in your point is that, if this hope is valid, then the responsibility for the "not pretty" acts we have committed belongs to (or is shared by) the "higher power", which would therefore be someone or something antithetical to typical moral behavior.

Apr. 17 2009 05:40 PM
Maree Kontrari


response to [Comment from Jeff
Date: April 9, 2009, 6:45 pm]

I need to quote you first:
"I would wager that most
of people that gave negative
comments did not listen to
the entire podcast. The biblical
story Robert told just framed
the larger question that every self-respecting human being has
asked: Is there some ultimate
purpose in light of both the
beauty and suffering we see?
Those who think they hold the
answer to this question have not
given it enough thought."

First, I would wager against you, but I doubt we'll get the data we need to determine the winner.

Second, I'm not sure self-respect should be used to describe every human who has been curious about "ultimate purpose", because it presumes to accuse those who haven't asked the question of having none. Unfair wordplay.

Third, I agree with the OPINION that those who think they hold the answer to this question have not given it enough thought, because it appears to include everyone who has "decided"; believers and non-believers. However, be aware that the contrapositive is not necessarily so, because the undecided may also not have given it "enough" thought.

Fourth, a question: How much thought is "enough" thought? I like the irony inherent in your statment, because it seems to point to a mouse-in-a-wheel condition; that if you have the answer, that you haven't thought about it enough, so one must be condemned to perpetual musing on the subject.

Fifth, I don't know if that irony was intended, or if you set the trap, ran around the tree, and then stepped in the trap by accident, but it seems your message adds up to asking a more pertinent "Why think about it?"

Apr. 17 2009 04:58 PM
Maree Kontrari

This is for EMILY:

response to [Comment from Emily
Date: April 16, 2009, 12:36 pm]

"I have to say was Beautiful
It is an incredible and eloquent
representation of human feeling.
Thank you for sharing this."

I agree that this was "incredible".

Middle English, from Latin incredibilis, from in- + credibilis credible
15th century

1 : too extraordinary and improbable to be believed

Apr. 17 2009 02:22 PM

I found this podcast profoundly annoying. I am an atheist, but not in the sense of having once been a strong believer - I am not an apostate. I just don't believe it and there are many aspects of religious experience which simply leave me cold.
I get no comfort from religious tales, or stories. They simply leave me unmoved - if anything, they make me sad that people believe them.
What's more, there is a persistent mysticism that Krulwich keeps trying to shoehorn into the show - which I am sure keeps it accessible - but which I cannot stand.
The irony is that silence is an absence of information - and people rush to fill it with meaning when it is in fact no meaning at all.

Apr. 17 2009 12:33 PM
Gnu Bien

Won't anyone answer me?
I'll ask again:

> What is this “bible” you are all
> talking about? What is “god”? I
> have never heard of these things.
> Can someone explain it to me?

From the blog, I identify six contentious items:
1. God
2. The Bible
3. Religion
4. Science
5. Reality
6. Truth

Merriam Webster's Dictionary defines each. To me, the easiest one to understand is Reality. The others seem vague, or have multiple definitions.

This is the first Radio Lab I have heard. Is Radio Lab "religious"?

Gnu Bien

Apr. 17 2009 11:25 AM

Nova is doing a really interesting program on the subject we have been discussing:

Apr. 17 2009 11:07 AM

Maree - ah, so you *are* agnostic deep down, verrrry interesting, lol. yes, I've been in that argument as well. A lot of the time, it seems to come down to semantics. I have an easier time "leaving the door open a crack" when I think of a possible god in broader terms than some white dude with a beard in the clouds smiting people Zeus-style.

Actually, I got the impression that Robert sees God in broader terms as well - he gave two options in his sermon: something about either God breathing life into molecules or setting the whole big bang into motion...I would argue that there are infinitely more options here than just two, but this was a sermon, so I'm going to let that one go :) The point is, I didn't take him to be a literalist when it comes to the bible, which makes all of the morality stuff in it that much more difficult to reconcile. What is the purpose of this parable? Why the silence? When so many people seem to use the bible as a basis for the moral absolute, Robert was instead...get this...questioning god! It's funny to me that he pissed off all of these so-called athiests on this blog and yet no one came forward to get pissed off that he wasn't taking the whole thing literally and simply blindly trusting. I think his point was that you can't blindly trust - you have to struggle. Faith is not the destination, it is the journey and the internal wrestling - or you aren't doing it right :) In this sense, any human who struggles with questions of morality and ethics can relate to one another, whether they are religious or not. It is the struggle itself that is the common thread.

I get so sick of religious people (particularly the religious right) acting like they have some sort of moral high-ground. In my mind, a true "believer" would have the decency to be humbled by their path. Instead of trying to threaten, to punish, to judge, to hate, to categorize according to biblical "law", people following the "law" of the bible could actually try to find common ground, to humble themselves, and to acknowledge that they don't have all of the answers. This is what I think Robert was doing with this sermon, and I admire him for it - it's why I have been defending him on this thread. I would be more than willing to engage in ethical, moral, and theological debates with "believers" if they would walk on earth like the rest of us. I also feel like militant athiests have a tendency to point fingers, to judge, and to feel superior as well. I want to call them on it every time I see this, because it is counter-productive and only serves to put up more barriers between people who actually have more in common than they have differences.

As far as starting your own religion is concerned, I had a friend in high school who started one based upon the worship of grout (you know, that stuff in the shower between the tiles). I've often wondered how that was working out for him...:)

Apr. 17 2009 10:39 AM
Maree Kontrari

I've enjoyed our exchange, too, Melisa.

It is funny that you mentioned that you keep your mind open about the existence of God, while qualifying it with your belief that it is unlikely. I have been having a "vehement" argument with a non-religious believer in God over the same subject lately. I claim that it is too egotistical for me to deny the possibility that God exists, especially in light of human history where new things are learned constantly. The person I am arguing with expressed that I must choose one way or the other, and that I am trying to have it both ways. I explained that I don't really care which way until I have proof one way or another, and that I refuse to decide about something I don't yet "know", regardless of what I think. The other person thinks I am being dishonest; they know me well, and think I am just playing "devil's advocate", and that I should go ahead and absolutely deny already. My insistence on leaving the door open a crack seems to really piss them off.
Our debate has stalled every time, because I won't deal in absolutes, except for carelessly tossing hyperbole around in an attempt to inciting others to riot.

Maybe I'll start my own religion! I am sure that, if I put my mind to it, I could convince some people to pay me to give them comfort that a powerful deity of my own invention will not smite them if they do what I say. I also hear it's a good tax dodge.

Apr. 17 2009 09:06 AM

Maree - wow, I totally didn't expect such a heart-felt response. Thanks for blowing me away :)

When I was on my commute home, I was thinking about something else that you said about losing some of your friends to religion, and how that makes you feel. I, too, have a friend that I recently spent a week with, and I was horrified to learn that she apparently has adopted all of her new husband's views (they have been married a year and a half) without questioning them. I honestly don't know how to handle that, particularly since some of her views are very prejudiced and in my world, backward. I realized, though, that pissing her off would not be the way to get her to question her own beliefs (as new as they may be - brand new strongly-held beliefs are always the most annoying, aren't they?). I tried to ask her some thought-provoking questions. I tried to share some of my own stuggles. I can't report that it did any good at all, but I felt like not saying anything would make her think I agreed...and yet, arguing passionately would drive her further into her beliefs, as irrational and logic-defying as they may be. I have to respect her, and trust that she should come to her own conclusions...

Another thing that I thought about was that the way you feel about your friends is probably the way my family (Catholic) feels about me, who has not attended mass in 14 years. I absolutely hate it when they insinuate through their words or actions that they pity me for my choices, or that they feel like I've made "mistakes" but love me anyway. This type of patronizing attitude can go both ways - I've seen non-religious people "pity" those who are "stupid" enough to believe in a specific god. It's the reason that I can't really deal with Richard Dawkins - even though I agree with him about a lot of things, the way he patronizes and tries to humiliate people seems to give all of us "free-thinkers" (a much better term than non-believer, don't you think?) a bad name.

I think that it is easy for people to become too dogmatic and tightly closed on both sides of the religion/science battle. I also don't like it when people deliberately set out to change someone's mind - whether it be to "show you the light" of religion, or to expose it as a dillusion, either way is damaging and disrespectful of an individual person. Any discourse about the matter, if it is respectful, is fine by me. I get tired of people constantly preaching to the choir. Robert did something a little unusual with this podcast - he sermonized to people who probably wouldn't care to hear it. And he did it in a respectful and poetic (if not at all scientific or logical) way. In some ways, I find that much more appealing that he would share this with us, his audience. Imagine going into one of those crazy stadium-type churches and giving a presentation on evolution - that takes some serious guts.

As far as I'm concerned, there is too much science left to be done, to many problems not yet solved, too many phenomena left to be explained, for me to close my mind to any possibility - including god. Do I think it likely? No. But there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Thanks for the exchange, Maree, I actually have enjoyed it.

Apr. 16 2009 06:51 PM
Maree Kontrari


I have behaved badly toward you, and I am sorry. I mean it, and I'm not being sarcastic. Please accept my apology. I would understand if you didn't though; I was being shitty, and added shitty on top of that.

I have a poke-in-the-eye style (not to diminish my bad manners with a cutesy connotation; a real poke in the eye is pretty aggressive and painful) which usually instigates an entertaining and sometimes meaningful discussion. I understand that entertaining and meaningful might mean different things to me than to those I p(rov)oke. I don't know if that's what it took to reel you into writing back to me, but it seems like your answer showed that it had something to do with it...? Still, no excuses.

And no, I definitely don't hate religious people. Most I've met are very polite and kind and deferential in everyday matters. BUT my super-open-mindedness (ha) does not translate well into areas it already knows to defend itself in. Fortunately, I don't have nearly as much occasion to deal with religion via religious folks or events as I used to. Crushing stuff for a curious mind.

You may be right about having other passions, which I do, and which I spend lots of time on, and which I enjoy. I'm not really carrying around hateful baggage; even though I write with venom. Maybe it's a learned behavior; yelling something to make it heard, or threatening someone to make them understand sometimes makes my line of work more expedient (productive) when I act that way, as crappy as it can make me feel. My sensitivity toward others is clearly below the curve at these times.

Once more, I am sorry for the negative ways I wrote to you. You are the most "real" seeming person in this entire blog (I accept that I have probably been the least, or close to it).

Apr. 16 2009 06:12 PM

Maree -

Nice talking to you too. When I said "sound like" I am trying to give you the benefit of the doubt. I don't want to assume that I absolutely understand your intent, and may have interpreted what I read the wrong way. I couldn't possibly have proof about your intent, because I am not you or in your brain, so a logical argument about that is out of the question.

Okay, I get it, you hate religion. Does that also mean that you hate religious people? That's an awful lot of hate to be carrying around. Wouldn't it be more productive to find something that you like and direct your passion toward that?

At the end of your comment, you apologized for insulting me in the previous post. In the same post, you insulted me again. I don't understand why your posts are so inflammatory. Why do you feel the need to get so personal with your attacks?

Apr. 16 2009 05:02 PM
Maree Kontrari


Nice talking with you today, and kudos on your passive-aggressive style.

Simpler (just for you):

I don't like religion.

Rob's sermon promoted religion. Seriously, listen to it; it's a sermon.

Quoted from Rob's sermon: "I know enough of life to know that God, you don’t always send angels down to stay the hand of the killer, as you did with Abraham."

Rob's purpose may have also included other meaning(s), but it still promoted religion.

I wrote my disapproval.

I did not claim to have all the answers.

I do not claim to have all the answers.

I know this: religion lies. This is one of those things that you can agree with or disagree with, but the evidence is miles thick.

Many religious people I know personally have lost their ability or desire to learn, or be told true things if such things contradict their "faith".

This makes me angry, and I blame religion(s), and I miss my friends. They have chosen religion; I am not burdened with any blame for failing to communicate with them.

Good try with implying that I lack curiosity, but you didn't really use reason or logic to get there. You started with a postulated opinion of what you think I "sound like". Logical proof cannot start with that, as far as I know. I am a very curious person, but I yell bullsh*t when I see it.

Therein lies what makes me maddest about many bloggers' comments; that they seek to give weight to baseless and unproven ideas by using language or style which either seems smart or sure without actually making the case for anything. In a debate, they would be fish in a barrel, but this blog barrel keeps producing more fish! I wonder if there's a bible story about that to help me understand things better!!! See how easy that is? I could write a 30-minute sermon in, like, 5 minutes. Miraculous! Saint me!

Nothing I write as opinion is stated as fact.

Go ahead and say blah blah blah about whatever whatever whatever, but I will say my piece, too.

By the way, Melisa, I wrote that part you mentioned as an insult. I wished I hadn't as soon as I hit the "submit" button. Sorry.

Apr. 16 2009 04:21 PM

Maree -

I'm glad that you appreciated the lead for TTBOOK, it's really a compelling show (most of the time). Audible has a collection of some of their programs called "The Meaning of Life" that focus on exactly what we have been talking about - the opposition and/or intersection of science and religion. I should warn you, though, that you might find it offensive if, as you say, you find all talk of religion offensive.

You wrote: I could answer this cruelly, but I’ll try to make it simple (…) for you.

Was this a joke, or an insult to my intelligence - or both? I don't think much can be gained by being certain that you have all the answers, whether it be because of your belief in a certain religion, or because of a rejection of everything outside of the realm of science. I feel like the older I get, the less I know. So did Socrates. You sound like you think you have all the answers already. This is what makes me think that you are being just as dogmatic and judgemental about your views as evangelical christians. I'm suprised that you would like Radio Lab in the first place, since it is primarily about curiosity.

We definately have different perceptions of the purpose of Robert's sermon. You seem to think that he set out to change peoples' minds, to get them to become religious, to "preach". If I took the podcast this way, I would be pissed too. My view is that his purpose was to talk about sacrifice, faith, and trust and he happened to use the bible as his source for allegory. He might have easily used poetry, or Shakespeare's Hamlet. I get the impression that he has a strong background in the Old Testament, so it would follow that he would likely use this as a tool to develop ideas. I don't really see why this is so bad, as long as he continues to struggle and to question...and I think he does, if this podcast is evidence.

We also differ in the view that religion is inherently bad. While I don't adhere to any religion, don't really have religious friends, and don't feel I'm missing anything by chosing to live my life this way, I don't feel the need to get people to extract themselves from their world view in order to communicate with me. I feel like I am intelligent enough to try to understand the underlying idea that someone is trying to communicate, even if I don't agree with the mode by which it is presented. Again, though, I think we will have to agree to disagree on this point because it goes back to a basic disagreement about Robert's purpose for the podcast.

Apr. 16 2009 02:31 PM
Maree Kontrari

Hello Melisa,

Thanks for asking questions. I'll answer them in a row. (That's row, like one at a time, not like a fight.)

Yes, this is personal to me. I think the reason(s) is (are) layered, but ultimately, I find religion offensive, and I find the use of the bible to support religion offensive. I found the podcast offensive because it went beyond "subjective" (which I am okay with on its own) and into the religious. Rob actually preached religion, so I wish to denounce it, regardless of the limitations of this blog to reach a wider audience.

No, it does not bother me that people have opinions that differ from my own. Sometimes their opinions bother me, but not the fact that they differ from mine. Anyone who wants to counter what I write is free to do so, just as I am free to say what I like. If anyone in a blog gets their feelings hurt within the blog, maybe they'll quit blogging, or get stronger/smarter. Grow a pair you whelping wussies.

I think you're right about Rob being a jew, but the sermon could have easily been made in a catholic mass, so I didn't restrict myself to judaism when I made that (lame attempt at a) joke.

I, like you, "don’t think that people need to have a family obligation or a monetary motivation to think about and analyze any kind of literary material." I was just asking questions which I hoped would get a rise out of Rob. His "silence" in this blog shows wisdom, I think. I also don't think a description of the sermon (as I describe it) as an analysis of literary material (as you describe) is really a good attempt at accuracy, do you Melissa? If you do, then I recommend a class in rhetoric, if only there were still places that teach it.

I never said radiolab would "have to reject all subjective material", so don't put words in my keyboard, and don't try to distract from what I wrote to make your ineffective point. I like subjectivity, I just hates me some religion. If it is fed to me, and I accidentally start eating it, I will spit it at whomever holds the fork.

Thanks for the lead to "To The Best Of Our Knowledge". Maybe I'll go check it out, and see if they have a blog!

As for the last thing you wrote me: "Is it because of the word “lab” in Radio Lab that you think this show should be so limited?" I could answer this cruelly, but I'll try to make it simple (...) for you. The word "lab" or laboratory, for me, does not indicate limitation, except if maybe the person operating within it seeks to answer questions for which they have already decided the answers. I am REQUESTING that radiolab resist the urge to deal in religion, and my REQUEST may or may not be granted, but I hope someone thinks about it. I really don't believe that omission of preaching from radiolab's format will make it "so limited", as you say in a way that brushes subtlety aside.

Do you?

Apr. 16 2009 01:55 PM
Maree Kontrari

response to [Comment from Chris
Date: April 8, 2009, 11:33 am]

You wrote:
I’m an atheist, but if there were
indeed a real god who was worthy
of human worship, then you would
pass the test by refusing to kill.

I agree with you, but how do you know this, Chris? The bible is loaded with stuff about killing being okay, justified, required, and righteous in god's opinion. Maybe by today's standards, cherry-picking from the bible to fit one's understanding of morals is the only way to keep bible-based religion going. Anyway, I'll help out here. Modern laws and acceptable behavior in enlightened society tell you that refusing to kill is appropriate behavior. You can't rely on the bible for it, because the god(s) described in the bible behave differently, depending on the author of the particular scripture you are reading, and the apparent vintage of each part of the text. I would rue the day our laws devolve into biblical bases.

Congratulations on being an atheist, by the way.

Apr. 16 2009 12:59 PM

Maree Kontrari - wow, this is really getting personal for you. Why? Does it really bother you that much that people have opinions that differ from your own?

You wrote: Rob, did you owe this to a family member, or have to come up with something religious for a eulogy, and then just toss it into radiolab? Were you held captive by cannibalistic Christians and had to talk your way out? Did someone funding you insist that this be one of your shows?

I just wanted to comment that I was under the impression that Robert is a Jew, not a Christian. I don't think that people need to have a family obligation or a monetary motivation to think about and analyze any kind of literary material. Since when does Radiolab have to reject all subjective material? To The Best Of Our Knowledge is a similar program, and as far as I know, people are okay with them including speculation about relgion as well as scientific findings. Is it because of the word "lab" in Radio Lab that you think this show should be so limited?


Apr. 16 2009 12:41 PM

I have to say was Beautiful. It is an incredible and eloquent representation of human feeling. Thank you for sharing this.

Apr. 16 2009 12:36 PM

I'd just like to say Maree rules.

Apr. 16 2009 12:35 PM
Maree Kontrari

response to [Comment from SP
Date: April 10, 2009, 11:19 am]

You wrote:
This was the first time I cried
listening to Radio Lab.

As a human, I feel the same pain.

SP, you must be a real cry-baby. What a low threshold. I know people get emotional when they see a dramatic movie or when they feel empathy for another person, but did you REALLY cry? Are you sure there isn't something else bothering you?

Anyway, "as a human" (just like you and everyone you didn't need to qualify it for...), I felt nothing but a little pissed off at being tricked (yes, I felt tricked) into listening to a whole sermon. AND, are you saying you are a different type of human, or that your adoption of the term means that others are less than human if they don't cry anything but tears of boredom?

Apr. 16 2009 12:25 PM
Maree Kontrari

response to [Comment from Rich
Date: April 8, 2009, 12:06 am]

You wrote:
That was absolutely powerful and one
of the best episodes. Great work and
thanks for taking the risk of sharing
this with all of us.

ABSOLUTELY POWERFUL looks much better in all caps.

You must be very frail. Maybe you've just never heard a bible story before? I don't remember my first time, but I bet I was shocked.

Apr. 16 2009 12:01 PM
Maree Kontrari

response to [Comment from stephanie
Date: April 7, 2009, 8:02 pm]

You wrote:
Thank you for this unexpected
moment of deep quiet and for
sharing something so deeply felt.

I gotta say, I didn't pick up Robert's deep feeling for this crapola. Maybe the flutter in his voice was a little stage fright, because he was in front of a "live" audience.

Then you wrote:
I still don’t know what to make
of those stories. Never have. But
I so appreciated sitting with you
as you wrestled with them.

Wrestled, Stephanie? If you'd consider a sumo wrestler vs. a little girl a wrestling match, then I might agree with you, but any intellectual exertion was unapparent in this radiolab.

Rob, did you owe this to a family member, or have to come up with something religious for a eulogy, and then just toss it into radiolab? Were you held captive by cannibalistic Christians and had to talk your way out? Did someone funding you insist that this be one of your shows?

No big questions addressed, just a typical sermon with predictable content.

Apr. 16 2009 11:52 AM

WTF Chicken - thanks for the response, and I appreciate your point of view. I think you seem very reasonable as well :) I like discussing this sort of thing, because I think it helps to develop ideas from gut reactions into more thought-out and researched opinions. Just think, if Robert hadn't jarred us all with his religious take on life, we wouldn't have had the opportunity of this discussion.

One more question - I'm fine with you rejecting this podcast and expressing your opinion...but where do you draw the line for religious talk on this radio show, particularly the podcast which is admittedly less formal? I agree that I expected something a little more "radiolabesque" at the end, such as Jad coming on and being skeptical or something...but I think the way it ended served a different purpose, and I didn't think that it was worse for it. I felt like Robert was speaking from the heart, and while he didn't sway my opinion about the bible or the stories that he presented, I appreciated the underlying story of his struggle with trust and belief. As a "non-believer" (I hate that term, but you know what I mean) sometimes I feel like life is so much easier for those with a specific religious belief system - that religion as an "opiate for the masses" might actually be comforting. It was good for me to hear from someone who struggles with their belief, and is still able to question it. It helped me to not lump all religious people into a two-dimensional sterotype. I think that is a worthwhile thing to take away from a twenty minute podcast :)


Apr. 16 2009 10:25 AM
Maree Kontrari

Well, J.G. Luz... don't go insane or anything. I can't tell if your last post was pure sarcasm, or partly honest defense of the lie of your earlier post.

Just so ya know, throwing lots of vocab onto the screen doesn't make science into allegory any more than your original lie, " is also by definition allegorical".

If you construct allegorical questions around scientific ones, don't make the mistake of artificially deciding they are inseparable. Science needs no allegory. Science is a study of natural evidence. If you want answers, you can pursue them with science, or if you are lazy, you can just make them up and state them strongly; maybe other, lazier, more fearful people will agree, and shore you up with their numbers. This is religion.

If you wish to express proof by simply concluding with "QED", I'd like to point out that some religious liars act similarly when they are presented a reality which contradicts one of their beliefs. If I had a nickel for every non-proving "therefore" I heard in church, I would be wealthy, and I didn't even go to church very long.

If it turns out there is a hell, I'll be there holding the door for you when you arrive, unless you were lying about being agnostic (a sure damnation).

Apr. 16 2009 09:42 AM
WTF Chicken

Thanks for the reply, Melisa, and I apologize for the pen name. A couple of things about what you last wrote:

Like you, I do not think the bible, whether a work of fiction or a blend of history plus parable is meaningless. I don't necessarily equate the bible with religion, even though the bible would be difficult or impossible to remove from most religion. From experience, I think religion is dangerous, and I think the podcast attempted to promote religious belief, so I didn't like it, and I said something about disliking it. My mind is open, but not empty, and it reminds me that some things have already been tested and have failed tests of truth and reality; disliking the podcast is not closed-minded.

Actually, if you listen to the beginning again, Jad sort of asks Robert if what they are about to play was his sermon in a synagogue, and Robert didn't answer straight; he said it was his "attempt to give reason to one of the darkest and most difficult stories that humans have ever told each other" I took that to mean that I might not necessarily hear a sermon, or that Robert might inject something more thoughtful than a typical sermon, or that he might conclude with something to put it into a real radiolabesque perspective. This didn't happen, and I was disappointed. I heard a bona fide sermon with religious promotion (or maybe pandering?). My open mind recognized this, and now I write my opinion about it. I don't really think the content was controversial by today's standards in this country, but I think it is fair to say that I wish the radiolab show had "weeded out" this podcast, unless radiolab intends to deviate from its self-expressed role of asking big questions to a new role of asking the same old thing you could hear in a church or a synagogue every week. I am fascinated by many documentaries I have seen about religions and about bible stories when they ask questions and explore historical and philosophical themes, but I don't watch the religious channel. I am not saying this radiolab was just like the religious channel, but it threw a little something like it in there, and I found it distasteful.

So, as you say I have the choice to do, I reject it (the content). Critically thinking about the subject really is to overstate what is necessary to digest this episode's junk food for thought. I really tried looking at it as allegory or as philosophical questioning, but the religious promotion part stayed in there, and detracted from it, in my opinion.

While I hold my opinion out there for a reader, and I express my desire that Rob and Jad stop doing this type of show, and I directed some of it toward your post specifically, you don't need to agree or do anything I recommend.

And I'm glad you noted the "evangelical" tone of my last part. "Evangelical" without the religion is "zealous", by my reading of the dictionary. I admit to having some anti-religious zeal, and if you seek to knock me for it, that's fine with me. The way I wrote it is just the way I intended it; the way you read it may or may not be, but that's just how it mostly goes when people try to communicate, I think.

Anyway, thanks for the discussion. You're very reasonable. I hope you don't think my disagreement with some of what you say is harsh; I don't mean it to be.

Apr. 16 2009 09:05 AM

Very interesting. Immediately reminded me of the novel "Silence" by Shusuke Endo. I'd recommend it to one and all.

Apr. 16 2009 12:05 AM

Allright WTF Chicken (okay, I feel so dumb writing that!) I definately do NOT think that relgion holds the key to meaning. I also don't think pure science holds the monopoly. The closest that I've ever felt to understanding anything about reality is during dialogue, whether I was participating in it or observing it. Cutting out one voice in a dialogue about meaning makes the whole coversation seem cheaper. As far as I'm concerned, the bible is a work of fiction. I don't think this fact alone makes it meaningless.

I think what people are most upset about is that Radiolab did not live up to their expectations during this podcast episode. All I am suggesting is that people adjusts their expectations a little and not have such closed minds. To be honest, I fought the urge to turn it off this episode when I heard the word "sermon", but I was glad that I stuck around. I looked at the episode the same way that I would if they did one on the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle or the Republic of Plato. Just because it is allegorical, doesn't mean it deserves to be dismissed. It wasn't pretending to be a podcast about scientific fact - both Jad and Robert said up front that it was a sermon.

I would not tolerate biblical influence on a science museum, and hate the insinuation by the Bush administration that the Grand Canyon was created by The Flood - these are examples of religion treading on fact and showing it's ignorance. But this is a podcast, not a textbook or a scientific review. I think it's okay if Jad and Robert get a little editorial every once in awhile, especially if they give you fair warning in the first minute of the program. Think of the podcast as more of a subjective work of art than an objective peer-reviewed journal article. You, as a listener, get to have the grand role of critically thinking about the content. You can decide if you accept it, reject it, feel like it deserves further investigation, etc. I value this role, and would hate it if all "controversial" content was weeded out before I got the chance to hear and evaluate it myself.

Seriously, "you are so close to freedom" sounds way more evangelical than I think you intended.


Apr. 15 2009 10:08 PM
JG Luz

Dear Maree Kontrari,

In answer to your posting:

It's true I am a total liar. You have found me out. I was disingenuous in claiming creedance with such assertions; I am agnostic when it comes to most if not all things. Is there true love (agape, eros or what have you), are there universal values (whose universe, whose dogma?). Does the aether really have more dimensions than I can count on my finger? Is this SCIENCE: the sky is blue because oxygen is a dipole and it's resonant frequency is what we have come to perceive and agree upon as blue, our perception having been contingent on our color spectrum having been skewed by a yellow sun. But would the sky still be blue if we weren't around to see it or name it if we remained in the cold dark depths of the ocean? But where does the sky start or end? what exactly is blue, does it have a threshold? How do I remember that I learned that the sky is blue like the ocean, what is an eye and where do the photons first register as blue, what is an I? Do blue skies connote optimism for everyone? What is justice? What is mercy? What is purely empirical? Why must we always conflate ideas with things? Scientific inquiry and ethics? Nevermind Praxis. Metonymy is hell. Other people are hell. You burn me Maree, as I you. Godamn you Krulwich, I want to be more like Jad, a stone cold phenomenologist. I have proved nothing.

QED bitches, QED.

Apr. 15 2009 09:51 PM


Portentious, puffy, pseudo-poetic, SLOOOOOWWWW, and so smug-sounding.

But the real problem is that the analysis isn't that smart. The connections aren't compelling, the conclusions are cliches. Frankly I got through half of it and gave up.

Krulwich makes an okay foil in the Ed McMahon mode, but don't give him a show of his own and let him expose his poetic side. Imagine Ed McMahon reading the Desiderata with the Mantovanni strings in the background, that's what this felt like. *sigh*

Apr. 15 2009 09:43 PM

BOOO....I don't listen to Radio Lab to hear old myths - especially badly told, overly long versions such as this - let's get back to rational thinking, please.

Apr. 15 2009 09:36 PM
WTF Chicken


I don't think it is science vs. religion, because they don't always have to be mutually exclusive. I think it is reality vs. religion.

I find religion an affront to intelligence. I find that when religion is watered down to a philosophical tool, it walks and quacks like religion, and is just as offensive; maybe more so in its lack of conviction.

Please don't cop to the religious as holding the key to "meaning". You don't need to bridge the gap between religious and non-religious language, unless you find yourself surrounded by a mob with torches and angry, pious faces. At that moment, maybe you'll be able to resurrect (!) an abandoned vocabulary and blend in until you can safely escape. I will tolerate religion only to ignore it when it leaves me alone. Beyond that, I'll grant it no quarter any longer.

Sorry to contradict your conclusion, too, but I vote to SQUELCH. Please, Rob and Jad, leave religious promotion out of the show (yes, this one promoted religion; listen again).

Melisa, you are so close to freedom. I walk thru my life and the world with my feet on the ground, the sun in my eyes, and sometimes the taste of salt air on my tongue. Now that I know that those things are just what they are, they seem more beautiful than when I was muddled with time-wasting insecurity. Life is short enough; why bother throwing chunks of it toward a fantasy about an afterlife? I will waste a little of it blabbing about my point of view, but that's a much lighter form of insecurity (haha).

Apr. 15 2009 09:34 PM

The episode was well done as always, but I agree with those who are saying it was out of place on a science show.

I was hoping that Jad would come on at the end and ask the obvious question: "Is it possible that this god character is silent because he's imaginary?"

Apr. 15 2009 08:52 PM
Soledad Robledo

Robert is a great communicator. Noah's ark was beautifully told. But I actually fell asleep... I think this doesn't fit in here. Why? Well, I'll remain silent.

Apr. 15 2009 08:14 PM

I think this comment thread is proof positive that dogma does not hold real estate only on the relgious side of argument. I never thought I'd find myself on the other side of the fence from militant scientists (because I am usually one of them) but I think a lot of these comments are completely uncalled for. This show is about curiosity. If I wanted to listen to a purely scientific program, I'd listen to (yawn) Science Friday. It is all too tempting to try to categorize the world around us according to our own world pick and choose what one wishes to be exposed to, and what to reject without a fair hearing. I believe that true intellectual curiosity and imagination must embrace the idea that profound meaning and insight might be found in more places than under a microscope.

Additionally, Jad and Robert often argue about morality and philosophy on the show, and any avid listener would realize that their belief systems come down on two different sides of the coin. I think this is part of why the show is so alive, and such a delight to listen to. Sometimes, I feel that they represent two sides of my psyche, in constant argument, trying to find meaning.

I've struggled for years to try to figure out how to bridge the language gap between religious and non-religious (of which I am one) world views. We need a sort of philosophical Esperanto here - maybe this show is this language in it's infancy. I don't see any reason to squelch it when it's just getting interesting!

Melisa Santacroce

Apr. 15 2009 07:28 PM
A Moralist

Straightforwardly; this simpy sermon was shite, Rob. Its bible stuffing is baloney, and I think you know it. ( can prove The "big" questions seemed like cop-outs for not having done any homework for two weeks.

Your other shows have been interesting. Are you out of steam? Were you just too busy since the last show? Did something kill a better show, forcing you to air this stinker? I hope nothing bad happened, that you're o.k., and that you'll be back on track with a smart show next time.

Apr. 15 2009 05:55 PM
Maree Kontrari

Oh my, look at this one:

[Comment from A scientist
Date: April 14, 2009, 9:26 am]


Science and spirituality are two expressions of the same form.
Always ask why, and always trust."

I am not sure what is most offensive about this little pip. Trust THIS, scientist.

Apr. 15 2009 05:08 PM
Maree Kontrari

There was an anonymous comment a few days ago:

"Dear Robert, if you are reading this, please do not get discouraged by all the negative comments about this piece. Many people loved it."

I will now offer my advice:

Dear Robert, if you are reading this, please do something smarter with your time and our expectations. Pay close attention to the negative comments about this piece. Do you really want to manufacture this drivel for the bovine-minded who "loved" it, if they even know what that means?

Apr. 15 2009 04:54 PM
Maree Kontrari

I can't resist... this is for you, JG Luz (and your comment from April 11, 2009, 11:59 am):

You wrote:
"...then you do not understand that science is also by definition allegorical."

You are correct; I do not understand that, because it is not true, and certainly not defined that way anywhere, you liar. I defy you to prove me wrong.

Apr. 15 2009 04:39 PM

Scrundle wrote: "Krulwich reads this like the aural equivalent of Narcissus getting lost forever in the beauty of his own voice"

LOL. So true. I've read the entire page and Scrundle nails it. Best comment ever.

Apr. 15 2009 04:38 PM
Mike Blejer

Obviously Radiolab is a free podcast so its creators can do what they want, and since I view them as artists I can accept the need to be experimental and talk about the things that are important to them.

That said, I have to say that this lacked the degree of intellectual rigor that I most value in Radiolab. There is an equivocation going on here involving different meanings of the word "Curiosity", where one just involves looking up and wondering why, and the other involves looking for and weighing evidence. Both involve some degree of analysis and interpretation, but this was clearly an example of the former and not the latter.

It was impassioned, so that's nice, but it was certainly nothing new in the area of Theology, and it was missing the key element of critical questioning that makes Radiolab what it is.

For the record, when I first listened to this I fell asleep, which has never happened before while during Radiolab, but was a common occurence as a child while listening to fairytales and in synagogue. I assume this was an outlier and not part of a new trend.

Anyhow, to everyone involved in the RL team, thank you for all the hard work, time, and energy you clearly put into the show. Whenever I give $ to Public Radio I *always* make mention of your show, TSOYA, and TAL, but of the three Radiolab is definitely my favorite.

Mike Blejer
Oberlin College '06
Science-lover, and
Melancholy Enthusiast

Apr. 15 2009 12:38 PM

I have tried to answer this question several times now, but keep getting blocked by a blog moderator.

I am wording it slightly differently each time, so I am not sure what is the reason for the block (maybe it is from embedding NPR's website url in the message?). One last try, though...

In response to AARON FRAILING's request for the text of this episode: NPR's website home page (ENN PEE ARR DOT ORG) has a link tab at the top for transcripts. I'm not sure if it is in there, but good luck.

Apr. 15 2009 11:50 AM

I see much dissent in the comments above. I am available for mediation in any venue. Please refer to my web site for more information or to contact me.

Apr. 15 2009 11:43 AM

Ok, I am being harsh. Maybe you two are fighting... or maybe you have lost the keys to the studio so you had to dig up some old tapes lying around... or maybe you are smoking too much of the old... or maybe you are just CRAZY.

Apr. 15 2009 11:29 AM

Hey Robert, this was so great maybe you should get your own show. Then I could like totally NOT listen to it.

Apr. 15 2009 11:26 AM

I am sorry to say this, but this is not what I listen to radiolab for. I have listened to EVERY episode to date, and am a big fan, but if I wanted bible stories, however eloquently told, I would go elsewhere. And where was the music? The interviews? The amazing audio editing? and Jad? Where were YOU?? And why so long between shows? I hope we get back on track soon! Please. Thanks.

Apr. 15 2009 11:01 AM

Anyone know how long the blog stays active? Maybe radiolab could do a show about this one!

Apr. 15 2009 10:56 AM
Stephen Clark

see below. The jumpstarting of monotheism in a polytheistic environment is problematic both within and outside of the the Bible.

Apr. 15 2009 04:26 AM

I thought the program was interesting if a bit overwrought (that's me being charitable: Krulwich reads this like the aural equivalent of Narcissus getting lost forever in the beauty of his own voice). The underlying idea as I take it was expressed much better by Shelley in "Mont Blanc," which speaks of spirits but is not religious.

My main problems with the podcast were that 1) Kruliwich's reading of the story relied mostly on material that isn't actually in the text (hermeneutics is one thing, inventing the story the way you want it to be something else); 2) his recounting of the cosmological/biological history of the universe is wrong at several instances (compounds before stars? no); and especially 3) "maybe God breathed life into these molecules or maybe the molecules assembled themselves according to some deeply rooted plan." How the heck can Krulwich have been a science reporter for all these years and not understand that science is explicitly NOT about "deeply rooted plans"? Hasn't he heard of methodological materialism, of the idea that scientists can only DO science if they assume that miracles and teloi (final causes, the Why questions philosophers and theologians address) are strictly off-limits? Scientists of course wonder about these Big Questions, but not in their professional capacity as scientists. (Admittedly, popularizers of science like Sagan, Greene, and Tyson do use phrases like "Why are we here?" to attract attention, but this is a rhetorical ploy, regrettable but probably necessary to get the public interested in funding the sciences: they know that science is not designed to answer such questions in their typical connotation.) I find it troubling that for the sake of poetic license, Krulwich would lump together a scientific explanation of origins so inaccurately and misleadingly with his otherwise entirely unscientific (whatever its other virtues) sermon.

Meaning is not the domain of modern science. That's a simple, widely agreed upon definitional statement that, when ignored for whatever reason, gets us into the trouble of the Dover Area School District and the like. Krulwich should know better.

Apr. 15 2009 01:47 AM
Herd Ewe

Robert Krulwich didn't exactly agree or disagree when Jad described his speech as a sermon given at a synagogue, but rather said it was his attempt to give reason to one of the darkest and most difficult stories that humans have ever told each other.

So the setup seems rational enough, and I say it is fair for Robert and Jad to venture off into non-scientific land if they want to, as they said they were doing, because, it being the Easter and Passover season, they think it an appropriate time to explore questions that "science can't get to".

I listened to the "sermon" (it sounded like one) all the way through a couple of times. The first time because I was hoping for some ending that brought the parable into context for a present-day lesson, or some other great wrap-up, like I'm used to from Radiolab. The second time was just to be sure I hadn't missed it somewhere. I hadn't. It really was one of those sermons where a rabbi or a priest takes some bible story (or two) and fills 15 to 30 minutes with connecting it to some kinda religious-meets-human thing, like "silence", or "hope". Pat. Formula.

Robert proved this was intentionally a sermon when he said "I know enough of life to know that God, you don't always send angels down to stay the hand of the killer, as you did with Abraham."

Robert (and Jad), please let me know if I should stop listening now. I don't want any more sermons or bible stories in my life; just real things for my refreshments and/or miseries.

And by the way, I don't believe that the entity you were addressing (God), exists, nor that angels exist, nor that Abraham, if he existed, spoke to or heard from this God or angels. I feel the lesson is lost when the example is so outlandish. The lesson didn't really grab me anyway; a bit lame, like a homewrok assignment...

Apr. 14 2009 06:42 PM

Booooooooooring. Due to a lack of intellectual rigor. Radiolab doesn't have to be thematically restricted to 'hard' science, but if I had it my way it would always present a critical analysis of whatever topic is being considered. E.g. an anthropological treatment of the biblical stories in question would have been great. But, as it stands, yawns all around. Also, props to 'Phineas' for bringing up the baby chimpanzee thing. Really Robert? I love you man but you are a cheeseball.

Apr. 14 2009 05:16 PM
Tom H.

This podcast was maybe the most depressing thing that Ive heard all day. Not because it conjured up any wonder or empathy with humanity, because it immediately brought me back to my childhood.
A childhood where I was trapped in great halls surrounded by the smell of heavily varnished wood and faint musty perfumes. Surrounded by all the adults ,elders and authority figures that I'd known to that point, all the adults that were suppose to be smarter than me, all of them sharing the same obsession and delusions of invisible men and Bronze Age texts.
I turned off the player around the time I would have fallen asleep during those childhood sermons.
One less listener.

Apr. 14 2009 04:11 PM
WTF Chicken


{Comment from A scientist
Date: April 14, 2009, 9:26 am)

Science and spirituality are two expressions of the same form.
Always ask why, and always trust."


What the f?
Of what "form" are they the same expression?
Always trust? Are you a MAD scientist?

You are an idiot.

Trust me on this one.

Apr. 14 2009 03:34 PM
Is Real

J.P. Winkler,

You expressed 1) shock, 2) embarrassment and 3) incredulity toward the 4) negative backlash and 5) ignorance expressed in these comments which 6) write off such an 7) honest approach to (the) subject. Also, I'd like to point out that your quote, " ignore it’s place even if you don’t like it there, just shows ignorance." is either redundant or a statement of the obvious.

I don't think most of these comments showed ignorance as much as they showed emotional response to the subject of "In Silence" and to each other. Please be fair and allow others their opinions, especially if you express yours with the language you chose. Someone who comments with angry language has the right to do so, whether it's productive or not, and whether it's to your liking or not.

Aside from that, I take your meaning to be open-minded about this radiolab show. While I don't subscribe to any religion or god, and I feel like much ado is made over something which could be simply human-based without sifting through layers of outmoded fiction to derive "meaning", I will agree that there may be some useful meaning after all the effort, nonetheless. A great deal of art is produced which gives people pleasure, and it could be described as unnecessary or unreal, but the beholder is free to decide its value to themselves. Anyone who wishes to critique it also has the right to do so. Whether "nice" or "mean", "smart" or "stupid", the rights are the same, unless a law is broken.

That being said, have you ever noticed how the majority of blogs seem to be written with obnoxious language? Like a giant wailing wall for the attention-deprived...

Apr. 14 2009 03:05 PM
Aaron Frailing

Does anyone have any idea where I might find a copy of the text from this episode? Its something I would love to share but can't to some of my family members who haven't really embraced 'new' technology.

Apr. 14 2009 02:27 PM

And to answer your hypothetical, I didn't originally catch that they referred to it as a "sermon."

Apr. 14 2009 02:21 PM

Re: JP Winkler

The pedestal I was referring to was your being "embarrassed" at the "ignorance" of those who don't agree that the bible is worth as much intellectual attention that it has received in the past, and find it difficult, if not nearly impossible to separate what Krulwich did from what is normally thought of as a sermon.

Yes, this is not exclusively a science podcast, but that's a crutch to bring in a few philosophical bits to add to the scientific discussion. I cannot remember any previous Radiolab podcast that wasn't at least even half about science. So it's no wonder this podcast stood out for that reason alone. And it was done to discuss and derive meaning from a religious text. I don't know how you don't take that as a sermon.

My complaint is not what was done, but the forum in which it was done.

Apr. 14 2009 01:57 PM

Silence in the Bible does not equal silence in fact; i'm surprised a lawyer like Krulwich did not point out that a lack of evidence does not necessarily mean an absence of evidence. Or to put it another way, just because nothing was written down doesn't mean nothing was said. Krulwich makes much of the silence, the meaningful silence, the overwhelming silence, yet the omission of words in the Biblical text may have been an intential act in the oral tradition to play up the stated reverence of these God-fearing men. Or the silence may be there because what was said contradicted the perceived meaning of the rest of the stories, and so was excised. In the end, no one really knows, and we go by what we have, but we have to take what we have (or don't have) with a grain (or a pillar) of salt.

Apr. 14 2009 12:40 PM
JP Winkler

There is no pedestal. As I alluded to, I am not religious. I just think your response is shocking. Radio Lab is not solely about science, and even if it was, this podcast would still be welcome (for me at least). Think about the Obama Effect, I feel like if Jay had not mentioned that this was a sermon (a word used several times in these postings) that the reaction would be a tad different. All Robert did, was recite a story, and talk about how he grapples with the lack of pathos from the one of the main characters (Dios Mio!). This is his strength he brings to all his stories.

Apr. 14 2009 11:48 AM

Re: JP Winkler

You can get off your pedestal now. Your point would have been far better made (although I still would have disagreed) without the condescension.

Apr. 14 2009 11:37 AM
JP Winkler

As a long time listener and serious admirer of the Radio Lab series I am shocked (and a tad bit embarrassed) at the negative back lash and ignorance expressed in these listener comments. I understand that we all (in most cases) may be Atheists or secular, but to write off such an honest approach to a subject that has provoked great minds for thousands of years is truly unbelievable.

I hate to say it, but even as little as 200 years ago most of the sharpest philosophers wrote many treatise (obviously there have been cases like Spinoza and Hume who spoke out against the bible - but they still discussed it!) evaluating text such as these. As modern society spins, religion becomes less relevant, and people over all are thinking less, but is this an excuse to disregard the teachings and wisdom of our sages? I do not mean to glorify these men, but Rashi, Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides and many others offer a great view into the human condition through the allegories of "sacred" (or fictional) text. This is the overall strength of the bible: our collective wisdom. The conversation is timeless, it just depends on how you look at it. I think it makes all that much more sense to discuss in this setting because we can be dead honest in our analysis without fear or condemnation. Religion is the most discussed text in the history of man, yet to ignore it's place even if you don't like it there, just shows ignorance. Furthermore to speak badly about an intellectual *non-religious* analysis, especially one that is not preaching is plain nescient.

Apr. 14 2009 11:05 AM

Re: Kathleen

How can you possibly say it wasn't about religion? It was drawing meanings from biblical readings. How is that not inherently religious?

Especially in a podcast that's supposedly about science.

Apr. 14 2009 09:59 AM
Sarah Roach

I've listened to, and loved, every Radiolab episode from the beginning, but this surpassed them all. Thank you, Robert, for an extraordinary story extraordinarily well told. I'll be forwarding the link to many friends whom I know will enjoy it and be moved by it as well.

Apr. 14 2009 09:59 AM
Who C. Whatsee

Hi B.H.,

I get your point, from a logic and "continually learning" perspective. I guess my word "exactly" is a bit strong. However, it is my opinion that science seeks to establish useful data based on empirical evidence, where religion has sought to tease out philosophical "truths" without evidence. While some religious concepts may describe (the) human condition in a way that give some humans comfort or a sense of "understanding", or maybe a surrogate explanation for something yet outside their comprehension, I give them no weight in the absence of real, tangible substance I can experience with one or more of my five senses. I try not to trick myself with conceptualizing if I'm having trouble actualizing. I believe curiosity and powers of reason and logic are useful tools, but I was taught to need proof for things, even though I was also taught there was a God, and that I should follow The Church without question, if such question would dispute the existence or validity of The Church or of God. This seemed to me a contradiction at a young age, and I have yet to bother trying to convince myself that it isn't, because I don't need to. So, I choose reality and pragmatism (I don't need to call it truth), and I don't include concept in my definition of reality until there is some observable (again, five senses, not imagination or emotion) evidence for it. I could probably continue with the semantics of "what is truth", but my point isn't really about the split hair of definitions; I hope that's okay.

So, after meandering through all of that, I'll describe what I think my point is: The podcast/sermon wasn't to my liking, because I expect something different from radiolab (not that they owe me what I expect), and I am also a bit surprised with the emotional level of some of the responses, but I get the message. Not much of a reach, really, just not my personal preference, because I don't live in the boundaries of religion(s) and the texts upon which it/they rely, regardless of whether they "claim an understanding of absolute truths on the basis of observations about the world". Such an understanding must have been created subjectively, and disseminated purely by explanation (although I understand sleight of hand "evidence" has been provided by some of the relgious, too).

Apr. 14 2009 09:58 AM

That was absolutely beautiful. That "religion" popped up in a "scientific" podcast was surprising, but I found it was not a story about religion, but more a story about hope and how much can be contained in silence.
I am a bit disappointed in all the people that have written comments angrily because it was religious. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the bigger picture, not the details, but the main message. A message of hope is beautiful to me, esp in this world where everyday we see more sadness.

Apr. 14 2009 09:33 AM
A scientist


Science and spirituality are two expressions of the same form.
Always ask why, and always trust.

Apr. 14 2009 09:26 AM

Dear Who C. Whatsee,

"Can you name a religion that produces evidence which adds up to facts which add up to truth? This is exactly what the purpose of science is, so the exact opposite of what you wrote would be correct."

With respect, that's not the purpose of science. At the risk of quoting from wikipedia's discussion of the subject: "Despite the existence of well-tested theories, science cannot claim absolute knowledge of nature or the behavior of the subject or of the field of study due to epistemological problems that are unavoidable and preclude the discovery or establishment of absolute truth."

Many religions, however, do claim an understanding of absolute truths on the basis of observations about the world (including holy texts). To its credit, scientists can only say at best that their theories and models account for their observations, but there is always a possibility that further experiments and observations could suggest that current theories are incomplete or invalid. This allows for perpetual self-correction, but at no point does science ever claim to have -- please forgive this phrase -- a "god's eye view" of reality. Science always allows for the possibility that reality appears to us differently than it actually is, and that further experiments and observations could reveal discrepancies between our understanding of the world and the world itself.

Apr. 14 2009 12:46 AM

this podcast did nothing but enforce that the Christian God is a murderous, selfish, controlling knee-jerk asshole not even worth debating, let alone worshiping.
Even if you believe in a God, who cares what the bible says, it was written by MEN and then manipulated many times over by more MEN for their own motives.

Apr. 13 2009 11:58 PM
Andy Loewy

Robert Krulwich gave a sermon in his synagogue.....
Does anyone else share my vague sense of betrayal?
It's one thing to read out of the Hagaddah at a seder you couldnt get out of, but what are you doing GIVING A SERMON?
As someone mentioned above, sermons are about evoking emotion via faux reasoning subtended by faux premises.
Not what we expect from the guy sitting across from Brian Greene at the Y.
Oh, BTW, Abraham was just following orders. I didn't hear you discuss the moral culpubilty of other order-followers, in synagogue, this Pesach?

Apr. 13 2009 11:26 PM
Disappointed Listener

Did I mistakenly download the bible channel podcast? What was that all about????

Worst thing is, I listened it all through the end, expecting some clever way to wrap that whole thing around, or to use the stories as a segway to another concept... only to be betrayed into wasting 30 perfectly useful minutes of my time.

Apr. 13 2009 11:09 PM
Arod McFoolish

Ugh. When the Jad's away the long-winded Krulwich will treat a fairy tale as if it actually happened.

Will Jad get equal time to appeal to the nonbelievers?

And to those who will inevitably spout off against my opinion, I say "Horseapples!"

What's that?


Keep the Radiolabs coming gents.

Apr. 13 2009 09:47 PM

When I donated to Radiolab, I didn't realize I was donating to a religious organization.

The podcast was extremely inappropriate and self-indulgent. This was not the forum for such a topic. You cannot build an audience based on scientific thought, and then slam them with religious nonsense. The excuse that your show is about "big-ideas" is such and extreme cop-out. Maybe that helped you rationalize doing what you did, but it's nothing but a weak excuse, at best.

I cannot begin to explain just how much respect you've lost because of this stunt. I can only hope (pray?) that you aren't taking solace in the fact that some found it "beautiful." Well, some find the Pope's sermons beautiful, but we don't expect them in Radiolab, do we?

It's really a shame. And there is no excuse for what you've done.

Apr. 13 2009 09:20 PM
Kaiser Soze


I thought this was a podcast about SCIENCE. For fantasy literature I'd tune to some other one. Come on guys, I hope this is just a lapse in that great podcast I always supported and donated money for.

Apr. 13 2009 08:37 PM
Gnu Bien

I wrote this earlier:

What is this “bible” you are all talking about? What is “god”? I have never heard of these things. Can someone explain it to me?

But wait, I think I may have figured it out. Is "God" one of your landlords, and the "Bible" is what I would call a lease? Have I stumbled upon some strange L&T case transcript? Seems very emotional without much evidentiary value. Weirdest legal arguments I've ever read. I can not even understand the facts from what I am reading!

Can someone explain it to me?

Apr. 13 2009 08:26 PM


There is no god of science. You don't have permission to make it up and for it to be true.

And that "spiritual" feeling you get is really just your hypothalamus releasing happy hormones to your brain when you get aroused by NPR voices... unless it really IS spirits; do you drink when you listen to Radio Lab?

Apr. 13 2009 07:55 PM
Who C. Whatsee

To B.H. (and I'll add Teighlor here, because Teighlor concurred with B.H. when (s)he wrote "very well put"),

B.H., When you described "a misplaced faith that science offers better truth than religion offers", what do you mean? Can you name a religion that produces evidence which adds up to facts which add up to truth? This is exactly what the purpose of science is, so the exact opposite of what you wrote would be correct. When you wrote "Unlike religion, science is specifically NOT concerned with truth.", I also think the exact opposite of that statement is correct.

HOWEVER, this aside, I am compelled by your opinions in the rest of your comments, and, as Teighlor, think they are "well put".

I second your "I for one would be dismayed to see Radiolab become a show that claimed to reveal truth rather than explore critically the questions that motivate scientists." However, if radiolab actually, suddenly exposed a profound truth, I don't think I would really be dismayed.

I also share your sense of irony over the number of people who express such "betrayal" (maybe that's a strong word, but I think it fits some of the reactions) over this podcast.

Apr. 13 2009 07:25 PM

I listened to this podcast as I walked my beautiful yellow lab (she's all yellow fluff!) on a gorgeous walking trail on a grey day while it drizzled. I could not have asked for a more beautiful voice to accompany me than the one Robert Krulwich offered.

I know there are many who disagree, but my God is a God of science--there is no separation. I always find that listening to Radio Lab is a spiritual experience.

Thank you Robert--for this--and everything.

Apr. 13 2009 07:22 PM
The Listener

I re-played two of my favorite blog comments above, because I liked their non-exteremism. I neither disagree or agree with them, and I no longer feel I need the actual podcast for reference as I read the blog's comments. Seems like the issue is the blog itself now.

Many of the comments above are loaded with strong language, and most (most = more than half) of them superimpose meaning onto others' comments they seek to dispute (you count them, too; check me). This podcast, as some have noted, seems to have polarized some listeners into camps. I wish to award each of these two camps a medal for their thematic responses (only some people, not all, are in these camps, so you're not all getting medals today...):

goes to the defenders of the podcast. Your use of extereme language (vehement, zealous, etc) to describe the other camp's displeasure is so exaggerated as to lie, in the style of a Rush Limbaugh or George W. Bush. Congratulations on your attempts to trick others into agreement.

goes to those of you who felt obligated to disagree in writing with the podcast. Congratulations on wasting time with those who will likely never pay attention to your message, unless to twist it somehow, which will probably escalate between you until it peters out.

Apr. 13 2009 06:44 PM
The Listener


Comment from Abie Sussman
Date: April 11, 2009, 9:45 am

When I was growing up I was taught in Yeshiva that this story was a parable. We were taught that in Abraham’s time human sacrifice was not uncommon and that the point of this lesson, for Abraham and for future generations, was that human sacrifice was not acceptably. I would add that a God requiring the slaughter and burning of any kind of living sacrifice is a pretty ridiculous.

If human sacrifice was an acceptable practice at this time then it not difficult to see that Abraham could make a distinction between the destruction of a city state in retribution for their actions and the “legitimate” request for an offering. Not unlike the distinction we make between murder and state sanctioned murder. Also an unacceptable practice for many of us.

The Torah goes on to teach (although not directly) that Isaac never spoke to his father again. Maybe not a dire price by modern standards but being cut off from your lineage was possibly considered excruciating in ancient times.

The additional lesson learned was that to grow one often has to leave and strike out on their own. Abram had to leave his fathers house to develop (even imperfectly) his own concepts. And Isaac too had to leave for his ability to grow.

Apr. 13 2009 06:15 PM
The Listener


Comment from Jez
Date: April 9, 2009, 6:54 am

Who is forcing all you complainers to listen to this particular podcast? Get over yourselves.

I’m not a religious man either, but I still found something in this episode. Radiolab isn’t just a ’science show’, it’s a show about stories and questions and provoking discussion and thought.

Maybe it’s a good time to remind everyone that Radiolab is a FREE service that owes you precisely nothing. Maybe instead of bitching about the content of one single podcast, you should be spending your time creating something even half as inspirational and fascinating as any Radiolab episode.

Apr. 13 2009 05:52 PM
Whole E. Molee

OMG, LOL! What a bunch you all are! Okay... Radio-lab ran a story with some bible stuff and something about silence in it (I heard it thru - was kind of church-ey). Holy crapp'n hell, it looks like it lit a fuse! Any of you pay $$$ for this? Anyone heard this one: A gift horse walks into a bar... bartender says "Lemme look in yer mouth"... I hope radio-lab keeps more along the lines of science-y stuff instead of sermon-ey stuff, so I can keep enjoying it, but you all need to un-bunch your panties! (haha) Actually, it looks like y'all are lookin to start a fight with someone, more than you give a damn about the show. Not youse who liked the show. Obvi you would not have a prob gettin a little surprise feel-god in NPR.

Apr. 13 2009 05:31 PM
Teighlor II

Okay, Teighlor, since I never named nor assumed the status of your religious beliefs or lack thereof, your protestation seems a bit too loud. I am sure I did not describe you as dogmatic, nor did I imply that you are. I really was trying to be fair when I wrote that it was my opinion that your reaction seemed more knee-jerk than a lot of those writing in the blog. I also never used the word truth, except to respond to your mention of it, and I tried to stay in the bounds of your meaning. To invent an assumption for me (that i think you're a twisted missionary?) is not proof for you (that you are "right"), by the way. If you could limit your discussion to responses to actual specifics, I think the discussion could me more economical.

Believe me, I understand the faith-based community at least as well as the atheistic, and I don't understand where you get the justification to refer to me as silly, unless you're just mad at me for calling you audacious, for which I apologize sincerely. I take it back. I just think that the relevance of a bible story is limited, regardless of Christianity's broad (though not complete) influence in the world, and that it is not necessary to explore it in order to seek truth, as I think you stated (please correct me if you still think I missed your point). The bible and its stories and the lessons people have gleaned from it are rarified and very subjective, even if they have shaped the way many humans behave. I am not against the subject matter, just not very interested in or impressed by it.

Again, I'd like to take back my sentence with "audacious" in it. If you re-read the rest of what I wrote, you should see nothing inflammatory, just some places where I disagree with you. My disagreement is not an attack, nor is it really very vehement.

Apr. 13 2009 04:48 PM

Very well-put, B.H.

Apr. 13 2009 04:34 PM
Carl B.

I'm very disappointed with this podcast episode - I normally love RadioLab but this sort of blatant religiosity just has no place here. At times Robert Krulwich's spiritual side has occasionally been a little too apparent for my taste but I always reluctantly accepted that as a way of getting a sense of the religious perspective that unfortunately persists in America, but this podcast just goes too far. Please, no more preaching on RadioLab... I don't mind if you put a link on your website that you can then briefly mention in your show so those people interested in Krulwich's non-scientific activities can go listen but by including it with the RadioLab feed, I feel like you've slipped a mickey into my iPod (In case of accidental religious consumption, induce vomiting.) While, I would certainly miss Krulwich if he wasn't a part of the show, if this sort of nonsense is part of the package, I'd prefer that Jad just get a new co-host.

Apr. 13 2009 04:32 PM

Nick Campanile: "It would be appreciated if this show can get back to uncovering truth."

It's interesting to me that you should put it that way. Unlike religion, science is specifically NOT concerned with truth. That's its advantage, not its disadvantage. The scientific method is not a substitute for divination or received wisdom from a higher power. Every scientific claim is subject to falsification, not faith. I for one would be dismayed to see Radiolab become a show that claimed to reveal truth rather than explore critically the questions that motivate scientists.

It's for this reason that I am troubled by so many here who seem to think that Radiolab has sinned by spending one podcast reflecting upon religious stories, It is as if many listeners feel that Radiolab has profaned a sacred scientific space by even mentioning religious narratives.

I dare say that the most vehement complaints here against Radiolab seem less motivated by a commitment to science as a rigorous and critical method for understanding the natural world, and more by a misplaced faith that science offers better truth than religion offers. This attitude does a disservice to science and religion. If you seek absolute truth, you're better off not looking to science. If you're interested in critically examining the world, including the religious narratives that have been so influential throughout so much of human history, then science is most certainly fit for the task.

Either way, Radiolab has never undertaken scientific investigation itself: it's only presented narratives focused around questions of interest to scientists. How ironic that so many people feel betrayed by this particular podcast, as if the show sold science out for for thirty pieces of silver.

Apr. 13 2009 04:04 PM

Why did you assume that I subscribe to dogma of any sort? I'm not in the least bit religious. In fact, I am above the choice. I don't need to choose between science and religion in my multi-dimensional world. Atheism and religion share a calcified ideology that tastes like shit in my mouth. I choose not to limit myself with this choice because I can jive with the mystery.

No one said that the Bible is true, nor does its truth even matter. You continue to miss the point, both of Robert's essay, and of my comment. These myths/stories/what have you are an important part of our history. If you're trying to tell me that the Crusades, the Renaissance and Reformation, and the Great Awakening had no impact on the non-Christian world, then you're simply a fool.

Knee-jerk is the phrase I used and precisely what I meant, thank you for confirming it with your silliness. By assuming that I'm some kind of twisted missionary, you proved me right. You look at the world through such narrow margins, you can't imagine that a non-religious person might be able to appreciate the depth and weight of these allegories told through the lens of faith. Understanding the meaning of this tale in the context of the human experience, questioning god's actions or existence at all, is what this is all about.

I've seen Inherit the Wind, it's a great movie. Your homework is to go read Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth.

Apr. 13 2009 03:59 PM

What happened to my beloved Radio lab???!! I think Robert got a call from god saying that he needed to sacrifice his great show... To those people saying that RL is a show of big ideas, how about we explore the idea that the bible is just a bunch of fictional stories. I guess this is not really the science based show it pretended to be, i'll miss you...

Apr. 13 2009 03:48 PM
Gnu Bein

What is this "bible" you are all talking about? What is "god"? I have never heard of these things. Can someone explain it to me?

Apr. 13 2009 03:41 PM
Teighlor II


I forgot to address this part of your message: "You’re not much of a truth-seeker if you shrug off the stories that have shaped humanity for centuries."

Are you serious, Teighlor? These stories may have shaped a segment of society for centuries, but what do you say to someone who never had the bible growing up? Do you tell them that it is true? Do you tell them that to dismiss it is to fail to seek truth? To them it might be the same as someone handing you a leather-bound Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Suess, and being told that it really happened. Maybe in two thousand years, Horton will be the new Jesus Christ. How audacious to assume that bible stories shaped humanity. That statement runs roughshod over many people outside of your "humanity".

Watch the movie "Inherit the Wind".

Apr. 13 2009 03:28 PM
Teighlor II

Miss Teighlor,
I don't think antipathy describes the atheistic responses in this web log properly. Pomposity is a better description, but someone who is "above" religion would probably seem pompous to a believer. I think you may have under-stated the level of hostility by describing it as "knee-jerk", because some of this hostility actually seems well-thought-out and deeper than that. I don't think you ought assume that the infidels in this blog have "spiritual conflict". I don't get the impression that they believe in spirits, and they describe feelings of alienation by the introduction of religious themes into what has been a rationally constructed program in the past. Knee-jerk seems to describe your reaction better than theirs, to be fair. And really, your use of demeaning terms about psych 101 and high school goth behavior just turned your criticism into name calling. By the way, I can not agree with Your "tremendous", "excellent" and "important" descriptors of the show, but it's just my opinion that these stories would be meaningless and maybe ridiculous to someone not raised on bible stories. I thought its message about silence was not very deep on its own (for radiolab anyway), and tying it to bible stories just detracted from it.

Apr. 13 2009 03:15 PM
Nick Campanile


Thanks, but in accordance with some prior posts... What is this doing on Radiolab? I certainly don't listen to this show to make concession with biblical hear-say.

Regardless of ones faith and the timing of the year... It would be appreciated if this show can get back to uncovering truth. Maybe a good start should be to run an episode researching the validity of this "story".

Apr. 13 2009 02:45 PM
1st Responder

To Michael

I read your response to the blog contents, and I identify to some degree with your feelings about disrespect. However, I do not think Mr. Krulwich needs to apologize for anything, or that this blog "puts him in a position" to do so. I think your appeal for more civility is a fair request, and I think it is a great idea to "study" the "psychology behind the lack of inhibition on online forums", but I do not think it will take much to answer. Simply put, online forums can be anonymous, and people can get their ya-yas out without someone shouting them down until they have shot their wad. Notice how little back and forth there is. There are a few provocations to debate, but not many bloggers who came back.

Anyhoo, RadioLab is a cool show, in my humble opinion, and I can wait through an occasional sermon-style broadcast to hear what I like better another time, unless sermons become more than occasional. That is when I would be done with it.

Apr. 13 2009 02:37 PM

I don't know why I'm surprised by the level of antipathy directed at Robert for daring to take the word "curiosity" fully to heart. The pomposity of atheists is not only adolescent, but extremely tedious. You're not much of a truth-seeker if you shrug off the stories that have shaped humanity for centuries. The knee-jerk hostility toward Robert, for sharing an essay that includes an important cultural parable (whether or not you believe in god), is so Psychology 101. Atone with your spiritual conflict on your own time, don't flaccidly demean the message of this episode simply because your philosophical tuner is set on high-school goth.

Robert, this was tremendous. Thank you for an excellent meditation on an important story.

Apr. 13 2009 02:23 PM
Sister Mary Elephant

Great sermon Robbie! As a third grade teacher, I can tell you your work is as good as any fourth grader's! A gold star for you, son. Don't pay any attention to those atheists in the blog. They just don't understand the power of God. We need only put our trust in him. Relax into the crash...

Apr. 13 2009 02:07 PM

I think the thing that upset me the most was the lack of critical thinking that went into this episode. Normally the scientists that are interviewed and put into radiolab have to produce evidence, do experiments, and show statistical significance using the scientific method. In this podcast we are instead told of the infinite wisdom of unquestioning subservience to a morally bankrupt deity. Silent or not, Abraham was unscientific in that he did not question God when asked to perform an immoral act. Science tries to explain the why and in this sermon we are told to shut the hell up and not ask why. If I were to try and pick a more anti-science quote from the the bible, I would have a hard time finding one.

Might I suggest that the next radiolab podcast talk about all the wonderful astronomy that can be learned in Joshua 10: 12-13. Or the biology of Genesis 30:37-39.

If you want to see how science and Religion affect each other then watch:

Apr. 13 2009 01:52 PM
Phil Spectre

HAH! Maree Kontrari is funny! Big chip on her shoulder, but funny.

Apr. 13 2009 01:48 PM
James Tegeder

This was a deeply moving episode. It explores all sides of the story And often the key to a story is in the silence. Brilliant! I don't usually post comments but this deserved one. Thanks Radiolab.

Apr. 13 2009 01:48 PM

I, who (think I) must decipher riddles (which aren't really riddles)
I don’t want to decipher (and am too lazy to think for myself),
Know (know and magically think are not not the same) that if not for the God-full-of-mercy (imagined by many)
There would be mercy in the world (yes, there would be, naturally),
Not just in Him (or her, or it, whatever imagination creates from thin air).

—Yehuda Amichai

Apr. 13 2009 01:16 PM
Paul May

It appears as though the vehemence and passion in the comments is as much a reflection of people's love of RadioLab as they are attempts to grapple with the subject. Either way, loving and questioning are no bad things.

Apr. 13 2009 12:40 PM
JG Luz

I, who must decipher riddles
I don't want to decipher,
Know that if not for the God-full-of-mercy
There would be mercy in the world,
Not just in Him.

—Yehuda Amichai

Apr. 13 2009 11:57 AM
JG Luz

Maybe not the reductive "Why?" of rationalism, but the poetic "Why!" of Whitman.

Not Teleology, but entropy as both accident and affinity.

Apr. 13 2009 11:42 AM
Paul Smedberg

Perhaps the Abraham story and his silence illustrate that "Why?" is an artifact of how humans sort our perceptions, and it is not the right question.

Apr. 13 2009 09:12 AM
Reggie Lion

Dear Heather,

Please try to name more than two or three of the "so many media figures who use the season as an opportunity to make fun of or take potshots at faith". I wish there were more of them to congratulate, but I am afraid your use of "so many" is just meant to make a point without real basis, sort of like this podcast, and religion.

Apr. 13 2009 08:36 AM
Conrad Science


Point well made and taken. I am tolerant of others' rights to their beliefs, even though I maintain my right to speak freely about them. My problem lies with the podcast's tenuous thread between a religious theme and contemporary reality. I spun out a little on expressing my dissent about whether choosing rational thought was more pig-headed than choosing fantasy, which, you're right, isn't really germain to the podcast itself. Please take my last paragraph as my point, that I will, as your comments suggest, voluntarily stop listening if sermons are what I may come to expect on NPR.

Apr. 13 2009 08:27 AM

Conrad Science, Jeff's post that you were referring to was actually a quote of my earlier comments. While I understand where you're coming from and how you got what you did from what I wrote, what I was referring to as "pigheaded" is ANY person who allows the way they feel about something to make them intolerant of even hearing anything posited in a way that doesn't align with it. It doesn't matter which side you fall on. It was a general statement of annoyance at people who are running around with their ears plugged because it's easier for them to do that than to listen to something they don't agree with. Beliefs as earplugs and blinders.

I wasn't casting aspersions on atheists as a group. You'll note that a little later on in the post, I mention that I don't believe in any sort of divine power myself. I'm absolutely as offended by religious influence in schools and government as you are. This, however, is not either of those things. This is something that you download of your own volition and choose to listen to. You can turn the podcast off if it's not working for you. It's not the same as being stuck in a public school as a minor, being told you can't leave, or feeling disregarded when laws are made by people who obviously allow religion to cloud their common sense and evaluation of human rights. It's voluntary.

In Silence DOES deal with rational subjects. You're not being asked to believe anything. As previously stated, it's not actually about the story. The story itself is a vessel. A simple, effective way to make you consider what's being discussed in a manner that matter-of-fact narrative cannot always do. A way to make you FEEL it. Detach yourself from the biblical connotations and look at it as a fairy tale.

This is already much more verbose than I had intended. For the most part, I just wanted to make sure your dissent was redirected to the person you actually found unimpressive, not just someone who agreed with them.

And, happy Easter!

(Juuuuust kidding).


Apr. 13 2009 03:09 AM

Who wasn't silent? Jesus: "Why have you forsaken me?" What does it say that these men who follow blindly and silently end up ruined while the man who doubts becomes the center of one of the world's great religions.

Apr. 12 2009 11:05 PM

At this time of year, there are so many media figures who use the season as an opportunity to make fun of or take potshots at faith. It was such a pleasant surprise to hear a well-crafted sermon, with Bible story leading to science and thought, as a Radiolab 'extra.' It acknowledged the power of the story without taking any position on its factual accuracy, and instead worked as a meditation on some important questions that I, like most people, have asked. Thanks, Radiolab.

Apr. 12 2009 10:09 PM

I am a bit surprised by all the comments about how inappropriate this podcast was, because I, as recovering-Catholic-current-agnostic, thought it was striking and absolutely beautiful. I listened to it while taking a walk on this absolutely beautiful Easter afternoon, and found it to be incredibly meaningful.

Even as someone who is non-religious, I don't think science and religion have to be separate, or necessarily are different entities. Science and religion are both about asking, "Why?" Radiolab is also about asking, "Why?"

It was a beautifully written and beautifully spoken piece.

Apr. 12 2009 02:19 PM
Conrad Science

I need to comment on Jeff's comment briefly.

Jeff, describing atheism as pig-headed, and mono- or poly-theism as just as valid a belief system as atheism is really to blur the line between subjective and objective thought. Okay to enjoy the show, but maybe leave it at that. I don't enjoy hearing things posited as reality when they aren't necessarily so, and this lack of enjoyment becomes something more akin to anger when religious subjects creep into public schools and government. I consider even moderate and low-key religious people part of the danger; part of the breeding ground for extremists (a subjective, relative term). My extremist may be your moderate, see? When evidence of a thing or concept can be shown to me, I will consider it worthy of consideration. When a concept is presented as something I ought to obey or fall in line with, I had better see some evidence. Religion has never been able to show me evidence, so it goes in a big box of doesn't matter. And for those of you who would cite the doubting Thomas story in a way that would justify dismissal of atheism, please consider that the story was inserted for just that purpose; it also proves nothing.

Sorry for the lecture. I just don't wish to hear this sort of thing on NPR. I can always stop listening, I suppose, but I hope my point can be taken seriously enough for NPR to pursue rational subjects instead of religious ones.

Con Science

Apr. 12 2009 01:10 PM
Hallie Burton

When I was a child, the rule of my parents' house was that I'd have to go to church weekly if I lived at home. I was an unbeliever at a young age, but tolerated this rule; cheap rent if you will. Point being... I heard weekly sermons, and became conditioned to the formulaic construction of them. Imagine you are a priest who needs to regularly and perpetually speak about something spiritual or at least emotionally touching, and feeling compelled to tie it to something biblical and out of date. What I heard in this podcast sermon was the same sort of thing. Robert Krulwich's big idea of the moment was silence, and the connection to the bible could have been almost randomly pulled from a hat, mad-lib style. While I like the direction he heads with it, I still find myself unmoved and uninspired by it. I have trouble identifying with those of you in this blog who expressed such interest, fascination and awe in it, but maybe that is because I am jaded from decades of hearing what became the same old thing, like rock and roll on the radio, or maybe it is because I can't put much stock in bible stories, especially ones which often describe such primitivism and such fantasy. One thing, this is not what I expect of RadioLab or of NPR, which I consider a modern and sophisticated thinker's venue. This podcast left me bored and disappointed, but I will not presume to tell anyone what they can or cannot air, nor will I be so egotistical as to think my opinion is of value to anyone. However, I will check in with this show only as long as it interests me, and this last one has lessened that interest.

Apr. 12 2009 11:36 AM

Many people also love The Jerry Springer show. Does that make it good?

Apr. 12 2009 10:00 AM

Dear Robert, if you are reading this, please do not get discouraged by all the negative comments about this piece. Many people loved it.

Apr. 12 2009 08:19 AM

Wow. Such vehemence from everyone. How sad.

Apr. 12 2009 08:15 AM

There are many other more powerful stories of the human condition - ones that don't need such a desperate interpretation or involve a god as a protagonist.

Apr. 12 2009 06:21 AM

Robert Krulwich, Jad (if you still want to be a part of Radiolab.) I now have a lower opinion of the show and it's so embarrassing that I recommended it to my mother and my sister right before this sickening episode. This kind of swill is why I never listen radio.

I hope it was just some kind of dark joke.

Apr. 12 2009 03:33 AM

Amazing. Stirring. Brilliant. Thank you.

Apr. 11 2009 10:17 PM

Thanks for this. Stirs again the hope I’ve tried to shun in the fury in my own life silence. Wasn’t expecting hope from Radio Lab. Ha!

Apr. 11 2009 12:59 PM

Thanks for this. Stirs agaom the hope I've tried to shun in the fury in my own life silence. Wasn't expecting hope from Radio Lab. Ha!

Apr. 11 2009 12:58 PM
Erik S Frampton

Dear all who have posted, I am struck somewhat dumb by the polarity and vehemence of many of the reactions here. The episode fell on my ears, ears of a profound Athiest, as an exploration of two profound stories that exist at the core of western civilization. The patriarchal society we have accepted and embraced for two thousand years is only now asking with crowded voices if we have led ourselves astray. The sacrificing continues today and those who are spared have their first-world nations and blind captains to thank for it. Is our own nation not the Ark who's doors are closed to the needing masses of the world? As an Athiest, I am free to examine the great stories of the bible as metaphor, as proverb, as mirrors and roots of who the human wants to be; I am free to consider why we behave as we do. I was moved to consider the silence, as Robert pointed out. Silence today, silence in history, silence in the face of sin, is indeed evil. Perhaps it is original sin?

Apr. 11 2009 12:50 PM
Paul May

Hmm. The podcast was, as ever, heartfelt, well meaning and honest - but it left me feeling a little uneasy.

While I acknowledge that scientific inquiry and religion stem from similar, deeply set human needs/questions, I can't say that Robert's own journey to reconcile faith, science and mind is particularly unique or interesting.

Yes, with the power of the human mind we can ask difficult questions - but this is only really profound or special if you put the human mind at the centre of the universe and suppose that it is the first, or indeed last time that an organism would question its surroundings in an attempt to know more. I don't find it particularly profound that the physicist is the atom admiring itself - isn't a parent when he/she looks at a child? Isn't a bee when it selects the flower? I just don't see your point. The soldier in Darfur is the atom's way of....?

In comparison to the organisms that have gone before, perhaps our capacity to reason and to explore is superior - but perhaps this is just another human defense mechanism, a story we tell ourselves to insulate us from all that we haven't discovered, and never will.

It would be wrong to ignore one of the true human universals, which religion/faith/spirituality/belief definitely is, but I thought that the way RadioLab dealt with the unknown was through the marvel of scientific inquiry, the power of the human mind, and the art of storytelling. This is the narrative I thought you used to ask the Why questions. Sure, there are other narratives out there, that doesn't mean you have to grapple with them at the same time.

Apr. 11 2009 12:50 PM
JG Luz

I don't think I've heard a more moving condemnation of Patriarchy, made even more powerful and unexpected considering the japing but endearing quips we all know and love Mr Krulwich for--And if you question why Radiolab is presenting biblical interpretations, then you do not understand that science is also by definition allegorical.

Apr. 11 2009 11:59 AM
Abie Sussman

When I was growing up I was taught in Yeshiva that this story was a parable. We were taught that in Abraham's time human sacrifice was not uncommon and that the point of this lesson, for Abraham and for future generations, was that human sacrifice was not acceptably. I would add that a God requiring the slaughter and burning of any kind of living sacrifice is a pretty ridiculous.

If human sacrifice was an acceptable practice at this time then it not difficult to see that Abraham could make a distinction between the destruction of a city state in retribution for their actions and the "legitimate" request for an offering. Not unlike the distinction we make between murder and state sanctioned murder. Also an unacceptable practice for many of us.

The Torah goes on to teach (although not directly) that Isaac never spoke to his father again. Maybe not a dire price by modern standards but being cut off from your lineage was possibly considered excruciating in ancient times.

The additional lesson learned was that to grow one often has to leave and strike out on their own. Abram had to leave his fathers house to develop (even imperfectly) his own concepts. And Isaac too had to leave for his ability to grow.

Apr. 11 2009 09:45 AM

Hannah's comments are so well-stated, I'd like to repeat them here:

"People who are so intolerant of religion that they can’t accept a concept being illustrated in a manner that involves it are every bit as closed-minded and cut-off from reality as those that they eschew. Atheism is a strong personal conviction, just as monotheism and polytheism are. There are people who consider it a religion in and of itself. And what I’m reading from so many angered listeners in this comment thread seems to be the notion that because something doesn’t fall in line with their particular subscription, they shouldn’t have to acknowledge it. There’s something pretty hypocritical about that. You shouldn’t give yourself fully to any belief system that makes you cover your ears. That’s what religious zealots do. Cult leaders. Televangelists. They become deaf on purpose. This is no different.

I don’t believe a damn thing, and I immensely enjoyed this podcast the same way that I enjoy a good Aesop fable. You’re being conveyed an idea. The story itself is secondary. It’s unfortunate that so many people are letting their pigheadedness stand in the way of a thought-provoking episode."

Apr. 11 2009 09:34 AM

I normally await new RadioLab episodes with anticipation and glee.

This time around I felt let down. I saw no redeeming value in this episode and find myself a bit shocked and puzzled as to the point. I understand the whole humanity angle but there are plenty of other podcasts out there for analyzing various religious texts. Why here?

Apr. 11 2009 09:01 AM
Susan Eutreptia

Every other episode of RadioLab has asked a big question, and attempted to understand by using the techniques of science. This time they tried myth. And myth didn’t work out very well.
To me, the story of Abraham and Isaac is all horror and betrayal. Attempts to find a loving God, or any sort of an explanation, in this story always seem to go nowhere. Robert’s try didn’t go anywhere either. This episode showed us, by contrast, how much more we normally learn from RadioLab.
The scientific way of knowing proceeds bit by tiny bit. It requires you to accept what is out there, despite your expectations or wishes or needs. But it all hangs together. And, to me, it’s a beautiful universe that is reveled.
I’ve never seen a writer express this, but many scientists see the world revealed by the scientific method, with a deep spiritual awe. Our desire to learn about this universe comes from the same emotional place where others try to find a god. It’s not easy to express. For me, quantum mechanics ultimately proved more wonderful, and, I swear, more sensible, then those horrible stories in the old testament. (Lot and his daughters! Ugh!) Someday, I hope, RadioLab can tell this story. (Your turn Jad!)

Apr. 11 2009 01:30 AM
Maree Kontrari

Sorry, JT, and everyone who didn't enjoy my insults. Please don't think of them with such strong connotation as the word "attack" gives them. It's just a weblog, and one invite unknowns when one posts to it. Perfectly harmless, unless truth, in and of itself ACTUALLY hurts. Of course I understand how my words could upset someone, but hopefully they'll get over it, rise above, whatever it is grownups with spines do. Just to back down a bit, though, this was really just an opportunity to stretch a little sardonic muscle while in what appeared to be a nearly three-day-old ghost town with ripe fruit in it. Since you asked nicely, though, I will cease and desist. Good night.

Apr. 10 2009 11:08 PM

I've pondered the questions that Robert put forth in this story. I've even come to some of the same conclusions, but WOW! I was moved to tears.

Apr. 10 2009 10:28 PM

Maree Kontrari, what on earth are you doing? Please stop hijacking the thread and attacking people personally.

Apr. 10 2009 09:34 PM
Maree Kontrari


You wrote this:
"I’m not a religious man, but jeez, not believing in a religion does not mean its okay or highminded to be dismissive of anything that mentions it."

I disagree, I am highminded, and I dismiss it as bunk, so there.

Then you wrote this:
"Where will that even get you?"

Maybe martyrdom?

Apr. 10 2009 08:44 PM
Maree Kontrari

I am going to talk to Tony
(Comment from Tony
Date: April 9, 2009, 1:31 am)

By first quoting everything he wrote, then asking one question:

"I enjoyed this thought provoking podcast. I believe religious people can believe in and appreciate science and its fruits while maintaining their faith (theistic or atheistic). Much of the media coverage of the relationship between science and religion is dominated by people who are not interested in having a genuine dialogue between science and religion but wish only to impose their religious worldview (be it theistic or atheistic) on others. To my mind, this podcast sought to have an authentic dialogue between science and religion. I am grateful for that."

Tony, how can either a "genuine" or "authentic" dialog exist between a thing that exists and that which doesn't?

Please answer my question at your earliest convenience.

Apr. 10 2009 08:36 PM
Maree Kontrari

More from ME!
to you, Mike Meiser
(Date: April 9, 2009, 12:31 am)

Please don't try to guess what's in my head, unless its an undisclosed quantity of jelly beans. When you wrote "These large questions lie just under the surface of all human thought.", you really do have a high opinion of your opinion, don't you? You're so smart, you should be a scientist or something smart like that. You're so dreamy...

Then you wrote this monumental conclusion to your three-line essay: "Their ultimate answer is “Silence”. I loved it, Robert." I think what you may have meant was "Dumb Silence".


Apr. 10 2009 08:24 PM
Maree Kontrari

Hi, Jason I.

I know you're a youth pastor, but that's just gonna make it worse, because you are partly to blame for the damage done to children's minds in the name of religion. This angers me.

Firstly, you should know that it is not "it's" when possessive, only when plural or a contraction, so you should have used "its". Also... not "re-butt", but rather "rebut". I hope you don't also teach spelling or grammar to the kids. Seems more like you just wanted to write something to satisfy yourself than to express something meaningful, am I right? Not that there is anything wrong with that, especially given my motives to rant the afternoon away, but am I right? I think I am, therefore I am.

More importantly, your feeling that understanding religion can deepen our understanding of the world we live in, I must agree, but only until religion is allowed to disappear and leave us reality, with no religious folk to make shit up and stick it in our kids' heads.

Finally, I hope you can see how ridiculous it is to use "religious study" in a sentence, even given your obvious grammatical and vocabularic (made that up I think) limitations. Do you know when you're being insulted? Hey, your pants are down... turn the other cheek.

If you see me on the street, you should cross, preacher.

Apr. 10 2009 08:16 PM
Maree Kontrari

Dear Timespeak (really? Timespeak?)

I think you're reaching if you aim to lump this podcast into an event where RadioLab typically "explores big ideas and ask big questions to see how the world works." If this podcast's ideas are big for you, or you think it describes how the world works, please let me know which exit your world is off the thruway, and I'll pass it by.

If you think it would be best to "explore ALL ideas treating them with respect & equality", then I suggest you get busy wasting your time with 90% stupid ideas, until you collapse into the drooling heap I see in your future Yes, that's right... I can see into the future! Will you pay me to tell you yours?

Apr. 10 2009 07:59 PM
Maree Kontrari

About the
[Comment from Robert John
Date: April 8, 2009, 2:22 pm
Abso-freaking-lutely brilliant. Thank you.]

Robert, did you know that freaking is just a lame way of not-quite-saying "fucking"? Hope you're not religious; this one might put you in hell, because he sees you when you are sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, and he knew what you meant.

Of course, your real offence is calling that podcast "brilliant" when it was not even interesting by ultra-low sermon standards, and I've fallen asleep during a few of themzzz......

Apr. 10 2009 07:46 PM
greg Pecknold

Completely bewildered by this religious sermon that looks for answers from a fable. Most Radiolab listeners are fans of the scientific process because it carry's us forward into truth and knowledge and hope for meaning. The ancient superstitions represented by all religious texts might have had answers for it's supplicants at the time but are meaningless in the modern world and completely at cross purposes with science. It seems like you are throwing your science equity out the window with this pontification on the unanswerable questions from an ancient fable. Where is the separation of church and science? Jad???? Are you on board with this? So disappointed.

Apr. 10 2009 07:45 PM
Maree Kontrari

Hi Aaron,
(Date: April 8, 2009, 2:00 pm)

Are you THE Aaron from THE BIBLE? You must be, because you thought this tripe was a "masterpiece". I guess back in your cave-painting days of yore, when people could only draw stick figures, anything like this would seem like it was made by some superior being. Anyway, welcome to our time. I have some paper-plate art on my fridge for sale, in case you have any gold... I won't take any donkeys, but I will look at your daughters, if you have any. Maybe your wife, if she's hot. (Hey Freddie, use that bullhorn to make a voice that sounds like god,and tell this yokel he has to give me his daughter's virginity)

Apr. 10 2009 07:38 PM
Maree Kontrari

I've been looking forward to this one...

Hello, AustinTx, you're on the air.

First, I'll play back your ENTIRE message:

"Thanks! An unexpected teat to make me think about a lot of stuff."

Well Austin, how do you like the northeast? Spell much? We've got a nice little town here, and we'd like to keep it that way, know whut ah meen? You come up here with yer talk about teats, and we gotta hide our women, little girls and little boys, then go into our glove compartments or under our drivers' seats or behind our fridges and get out our (registered) Glocks to put a cap in ya. What kinda "stuff" did this make you think about, huh? Lotsa stuff, or reglur stuff-stuff?

All kidding aside, you seem like a brilliantly expressive writer with a future as big as all of Texas (I think Laurie Williamson will agree with me here). Now go rope some dogies, cow-boy.

Apr. 10 2009 07:26 PM
Maree Kontrari

Hey, housecat, I wanna help you out here, because it seems like you're on the fence.

There is no need for hushed, reverent tones regarding this piece. Irreverence is your right, and I like to think of it as my obligation; my little service to society. THAT's what will make people pragmatic thinkers, NOT apologizing for disbelieving in something unbelievable, and NOT yielding when pressed by the religious.

Apr. 10 2009 07:10 PM

As much as I like this series and respect the wider body of Robert's work, I was not particularly impressed with this episode. It just not what I have to expect from Radio Lab (which is normally an excellent show). This show made me cringe. The message of blind obedience is repulsive, regardless of its source. The fact that these stories have been twisted into some morally "good" fable is beyond my comprehension. The text used here is severely lacking when held up as any sort of moral compass.

Apr. 10 2009 07:03 PM
Maree Kontrari

Okay Ruby, you had to know you were going to get a little.

Ruby, I think you're a real gem. I liked the way you complimented Richard's speech in the first 15% of your comments, then wrapped it up nicely with about 85% of blah blah blah about how erudite you think you are. (Bronx Cheer noise)

Apr. 10 2009 06:49 PM
Maree Kontrari

I must talk to Henry Kivett
(Date: April 7, 2009, 9:41 pm)

Henry... oh, Henry,
Why would you say, "I’m a little disappointed in some of the negative reactions here. I don’t feel the venue is inappropriate at all."...? THIS IS A BLOG! That's the nature of it! C'mon, people, a little help here.

HENRY! I'm not done. You seem like you have been absorbed into the Faux-Five mainstream when you say, "Religion, science, politics, history… it’s all basically storytelling...". SCIENCE IS NOT STORYTELLING. IT IS SCIENCE. Did you fail science? Were you home-schooled by Amish? Then I might understand, but don't just say shit to defend stinkier shit, please. Jesus Christ, man. Didn't you bear false witness when you called it "the supposedly objective world of science"? IT IS OBJECTIVE IF IT IS SCIENCE. If it isn't objective, it isn't science, get it? See how simple that is, or are you too simple?

Sorry for the yelling (all caps), Henry. I'll bet you're an okay sort of person, albeit a little misguided and unintelligent. I hope there's someone smart around to look after you.

Apr. 10 2009 06:42 PM

It would be even better had I spelled religious correctly. Sheesh.

Apr. 10 2009 06:37 PM
Maree Kontrari

It would be just like someone named Rebecca to use the word "amazement" when nothing was amazing. I wish to invite everyone to refrain from overuse of such extreme language. Otherwise, I fear spoken words will take on equal levels of meaning, and therefore no meaning at all, resulting in reversion to grunts and yelps for us all. I don't think the intelligencia are far behind the dim-witted in this regard.

By the way, Rebecca, if the podcast had "Nothing to do with God, for me." (your words), have you begun to lose comprehension of the language, as I am anticipating? I am EXTERMELY, AMAZINGLY, INCREDIBLY POSITIVE that the bible story of Abraham's test by god was at the root of the whole thing, and the VERY WEAK message about silence which was scotch-taped to its sweaty backside made up a small percentage of the thing. I could listen to it again, but I'd rather jam pencils in my ears.

Apr. 10 2009 06:27 PM
Maree Kontrari

Stephen Goldmeier!!!

You wrote:
"radiolab is not a science show, it’s a show about curiosity."

I say:
You don't work for NPR, do you? Didn't think so.

Then you wrote:
"and this story inspires a lot of curiosity, from anyone who has read it, atheist or believer."

Now I say:
Sounds like you're a believer. If, by "a lot of curiosity", you mean exclamation points and question marks (!!!???) over one's head, expressing confused alarm induced by a story of barbarism presented as holy scripture, then I agree, from an atheist's perspective.

You write a little like a gay person. You know you can get married in most New England States now, right?

Apr. 10 2009 06:14 PM

If I thought this episode was religous I'd be upset and quite put off. But to me it was about humanity. The same humanity in every episode. I have no use for religion whatsoever, and I was even more clear on that after listening. But the point wasn't God.

And hope doesn't have to be about God. Even being an atheist I have hope.

I thought this was beautiful, poetic, and perhaps pointed to an underlying feeling that runs throughout RadioLab - amazement and wonder and appreciation of life and science and weirdness and beauty. Nothing to do with God, for me.

Apr. 10 2009 06:09 PM

When the "big questions" of life are whittled down to why "God" does the things he or she supposedly does, we are having discussions at a first grade level. This is the biggest problem I have with this podcast. A bible story is exactly that, a bible story. It's not a meditation on the mysteries of life, no matter how much your faith in an imaginary god compels you to think so. And when a discussion about the meaning of life gets derailed by religious nonsense, it gets very frustrating for those of us who actually want to explore these subjects.

Apr. 10 2009 05:58 PM
Dani Boi

I would like to say something to Laurie Williamson, who commented in this blog. Laurie, to admire someone for their "bravery" for the sermon we just heard is kinda over-doing it, isn't it? How brave has a religious nut had to be in the last two centuries in America? And to admire their honesty when the whole message is based on a scary fairy tale is really just dumb. I think it would be fair to say you like the sermon, but when you pile on the superlatives (like "brilliantly expressed") about a wishy-washy message of quietude tenuously-connected to a story about a father about to slaughter and burn his own son either with God as his excuse, or because he is so f'd up he thinks someone named God told him to... WTF? Aren't you embarrassed?

Apr. 10 2009 05:57 PM
Maree Kontrari

And here is one for Joe
(Date: April 7, 2009, 11:25 am)

You wrote:
Without God stepping into our situation and giving us access to goodness and life and himself through Jesus I personally would have no hope.

I write to you:
Abandon hope.

Apr. 10 2009 05:44 PM
Maree Kontrari

(Date: April 7, 2009, 2:51 am)

When you wrote "...It’s the final redeeming piece to the puzzle that is human history - without it nothing makes sense." at almost three in the morning, were you high on drugs?

If I tell you it is false, how will you make sense of anything? Have another hit.

Apr. 10 2009 05:39 PM
Carol Lewis

Dear Anonymous, from the thread above,
Regarding your comment to Leonard Ritter, also threaded above

Is that what you came here for? To correct someone with your presumption? One might feel confident that Kierkegaard was religious, but, like the more contemporary Einstein, who passed the religious person's smell test with his tongue-in-cheek descriptions of God, isn't it possible that Kierkegaard harbored doubt? You seem very sure in your use of "extremely, devoutly religious" when you describe the writer. Have you any proof of this claim?

Apr. 10 2009 05:21 PM
David N. Goliath



Apr. 10 2009 05:04 PM

Leonard Ritter:

Kierkegaard wasn't agnostic, he was extremely devoutly religious.

Apr. 10 2009 04:15 PM
Howard Greentree

To follow up, HOLY COW, what a lot of opinions! To those of you who wish to give equal time to religious subject matter on NPR, and seem upset by the displeasure of atheists, I say "who cares what you think?" Religion is dangerous. Nice people who are religious are dupes (I think they even call themselves "sheep"). Instead of reading how you, a religious person, is offended by dismissal of or disgust in your "ideas", how about you keep it to yourself for once? While I find some historic speculation about the bible interesting in an academic way, if I hear any more sermons on NPR, I'll campaign for everyone who refuses to give money to a church to do likewise with NPR. That isn't mean, it's just refusing to pay for what you don't want; an appropriate mix of democracy and capitalism. If NPR can do better financially with a religious audience than with a reality-based audience, then I will expect them to play to the ticket holders. If you're religious and offended by this, imagine how my intelligence feels on a daily basis in this country. If you want an intelligent debate, and you want the subject to be fictional, you'll have to agree that its fictional; otherwise it won't be an intelligent debate. If you compare atheistic zeal with religious zeal (one of you pie-eyed mary poppinses above did), that's because it's zeal, not religious - How ironical that you'd identify one of the worst attributes of your way of life as a reason to disparage another. Oh, and by the way, thanks to Mr. PhD (piled higher and deeper) for listing their intelligence merit badges before describing themselves as devout, as if it justifies something. Yes, you, "Theophilus", who had the weak judgement to qualify a few pearls with, "Lest I open myself to disparagement...". Ha HA, pointdexter. Maybe you should buy NPR and pay its bills when it becomes Nationalized Prerequisite Religion.

A little hyperbole never hurt anyone, right?

Apr. 10 2009 04:13 PM
John Zero

I was raised in a religious household to be very tolerant of many things including other religions, lifestyles, etc. This tolerance did not extend to anything illegal, mind you, especially since "illegal” describes activity outside of current society's mores, and I was raised by very moral people.

Had Abraham "been commanded to", and followed through on his act from the story, he would have been just as worthy in gOD's eyes as if he had been stopped before fulfilling it. This is a story about either a sociopath or a schizophrenic who just didn't quite go through with a murder. Had the narrator of this sermon been privy to a modern-day act like Abraham's at any step along the process, he would have advised against it, tried to stop it, reported a kidnapping, or called 911 about a murder in progress. He would not have taken some greater meaning from it, unless he has crossed a dangerous line.

If this happened today, can you imagine a place on earth where this behavior would be acceptable? Perhaps within a rampant and radically religious society, or maybe in a well-cloistered cult, filled with believers who are more afraid of Harry Potter than of the hOLY bIBLE. The bIBLE is a collaborative and subversive work that has lost its (political) meaning over the millennia. At least the Harry Potter stories are authored knowingly as fiction meant to entertain those who are not so gullible as to believe the "magic" within them is real. Anyone so gullible is probably religious, or very young. If young, hopefully their parent(s) is/are responsible enough to explain things to them with truth.

I stopped believing in Santa Claus at about age four, and religion at age five. Existence of gOD became ridiculous to me shortly after. While I will not claim to know all about the universe, I will not give credence to concepts that haven't a shred of evidence to support them. I will also not say anything is impossible, as humans keep learning generation after generation of obstinacy, but I'll need something of proof before wasting time on speculation about something with no basis.

I do my best to show tolerance toward people who aren't hurting anyone (I must rely on my judgment of fairness for this), and in the last few years, my opinion of religions invented in the honor of a fictitious being is that they have, do, and will likely continue to act unfairly toward those they inevitably exclude. This unfairness has, at times, been horrific. Other times, more seemingly benign religions simply breed and empower those who will behave unfairly in the name of some gOD. This is where my tolerance ends, and impoliteness will begin. Anyone religious who says what they wish to me will hear what I wish to say in reply from now on. Please don't consider an unfounded concept as "likely" as reality, just because it can't be disproven; this is not how common sense works. The burden of proof will be borne by anyone who wishes to lie to me.

Don't be sad; the meaning of life is that you are alive, among others of your kind, with your feet on terra firma. To extend it beyond this is a common expression of a fear of meaninglessness, fear of death, fear of exclusion. Your morals do not rely on your religious beliefs; they rely on your maturation into society. If your parents raised you in a religion, I will not say they did so with bad intentions, but I will say that they have done you a disservice. If you feel your parents were good people to you while you were growing up, and that they raised you well, that is very nice for you. If they did so religiously, please consider the likelihood that they would have been good people who raised you well without religion, too. This is my opinion, and I will defend your right to disagree with it, but I will still think you are a fool.

I hope this helps someone out there grow up a little. I have been on the receiving end of "maybe you just don't have what we have", implying I am actually missing something. To those of you with this idea, please stay off my lawn. A human emotional need is not a hole in your heart designed to be filled up by a gOD. Wallowing in this need to the point of delusion is not gOD talking to you, unless you can prove it is. Imagine if David Berkowitz had succeeded in convincing authorities that gOD told him to sacrifice those immoral-ites he slew; he could be added into the bIBLE seamlessly.

Please plan something kind for your eventual death by donating your body to science, or maybe at least abstain from wasting money on a sealed casket, so your corpse can put some nutrients back into the soil.

Apr. 10 2009 03:01 PM
Tim Farley

Silence is a wonderful topic, and the relation to a silent big bang was nice, but we can do without the biblical lunacy. Abraham and Noah are the worst type of fictional characters. They present a rationalization for unspeakable, inhuman actions. Not at all unlike the religions that were spawned by them. It was "faith" as strong as Abraham and Noah's that gave 19 cowards the courage to hijack planes and kill 3000 people. Might I offer another fictional character that would have provided a great platform for your story without the religious baggage? Hamlet,"and the rest is silence".

Apr. 10 2009 02:58 PM
Austin Warren

What was this doing on Radio Lab?

How is a rambling nonsensical tale of an ancient schizophrenic supposed to be meaningful to me? It is simply disgusting and disturbing.

Reverence for a clearly psychotic man who was going to kill his son to appease a voice in his mind? I want to hear your defense of Andrea Yates and "God" when she was commanded by him to drown her five young children in the bathtub.

Except this time "God" (i.e. the psychological disorder that caused her to sense an external presence and voice commanding her actions) never said, "Stop!"

This was NOT Radio Lab. I am confused and disappointed that this ever was even considered appropriate much less released in this venue.

Maybe you can redeem yourselves by giving us an episode about schizophrenia, and why it is dangerous, not wonderful, to obey disembodied voices in your mind commanding you to kill your children.

Apr. 10 2009 02:51 PM

"The biblical story Robert told just framed the larger question that every self-respecting human being has asked: Is there some ultimate purpose in light of both the beauty and suffering we see? Those who think they hold the answer to this question have not given it enough thought."

And someone (Jad?) should have stepped in and pointed out the fallacy behind this "larger question." "Purpose" is a human construct. It doesn't exist independently of the person asking it.

Apr. 10 2009 01:24 PM

Genesis includes the story in which God supposedly asked Abraham to murder his own son Isaac, as a symbol of his willingness to obey God no matter the cost. At the last moment, Abraham slaughtered a ram instead.

But what does this story mean?

Unfortunately, the white men who wrote the Bible and promoted its views throughout the world got it all wrong. They interpret this to mean that people must be obedient. Especially if their religious leaders tell them to do something. So when a religious leader tells their people to send their children to war to slaughter the children of their neighbors, and maybe to be slaughtered themselves, then people must obey. The lesson, taught by these men who used religion to convince parents to send their children off to kill or be killed so the church could grab even more assets, enslave even more people, was that if God says to kill, you'd better kill.

But how can anyone claim that is a "religious" concept? It isn't religious. It's just the slogan of every cheap dictator and despot who's ever ruled any corner of the world. They must convince their young men to go kill others to grab more wealth for the despot. They must convince the people that God wants them to kill, because that is the basis of most wars: theft by the wealthy disguised as religious dictate for the peasants.

Of course reasonable people interpret this story entirely differently. Reasonable people see this as a warning that no matter what somebody things or believes, no matter how convinced they are that something is God's idea (i.e. George W. Bush claims God wanted him to slaughter 1 million Iraqis and steal all that country's oil), if they really think God wants them to slaughter their own children, then they're crazy. Or slaughter other people's children.

God did not want Abraham to murder his own child or anyone else's child. In fact after Abraham realized what a fanatic he had become, that he came close to murdering his own son, he never saw joy in life again. He was ruined once he crossed that line and became willing to murder -- such as in war.

Apr. 10 2009 12:25 PM

Ok, look. It's not that I don't get what the point of this piece was. But do those of you who appreciate the piece really not understand at all how those of us on the other side would have trouble relating to these examples? Look at them with a little bit of critical distance:

The story of Abraham does not come off to us as that of a man seeking meaning in the universe. It's about a man who unhesitatingly sets out to murder his child because he's hearing a voice in his head. Also, it didn't happen.

And the story of Noah's ark is too ridiculous on its face to be a sympathetic example of anything. It's insane, really. All of it. Also, it didn't happen.

If you want to talk about humans dealing with questions of meaning in the midst of unspeakable tribulations there are more than enough ways to illustrate it from the last century alone. Things from actual human history. Stories that don't require the utmost suspension of disbelief.

I don't think anyone is saying that Robert Krulwich's basic thesis was without merit. For myself all I can say is the examples offered to support that thesis are empty. They don't mean anything to me. And they absolutely don't mean what Robert and his advocates in this thread think they're supposed to mean to me. That's not knee-jerk anti-religion. That's just how it is. I can't relate to these myths.

And the larger point is that this is not the way we are accustomed to Radiolab talking about the issues it addresses. There aren't any off limits topics for the show and obviously that's one of the attractions. But to broach a topic and only say "well here's what the bible says the end" is absolutely not Radiolab's style. We expect a lot more exploration and critical thinking. And that's why the disappointment. Robert (and everyone else) can believe whatever they like. But this didn't deserve the Radiolab label.

Apr. 10 2009 11:46 AM

This was the first time I cried listening to Radio Lab.

As a human, I feel the same pain.

Apr. 10 2009 11:19 AM

Beautiful, moving and perfect. Thank you, Mr. Krulwich.

Apr. 10 2009 10:58 AM

where the heck is radiolab?

this ain't it.

this is the Krulwich bible study podcast. it is alway depressing to see such an intelligent thoughtful individual torture themselves over all these superstitious fairy tales. god asked this dude to kill his own son because he is a psycho....and luckily a fictitious one.


jad....jad.....why have you forsaken us? bring back the real radiolab...we love it!

Apr. 10 2009 10:56 AM

Welp, I listened to the whole podcast. I wanted to turn it off the whole time, but didn't... because I knew that it would be sorted out in the end with a "Hey, this is just a made up story that isn't true so don't really base your life around it, but wow, I sure did make it sound nice... fade in the pretty post-rock ambient music" type of thing. But that didn't happen and now I'm fighting with the idea of unsubscribing. That was creepy like church. It's a good thing that this wont affect my day at all.

Apr. 10 2009 10:39 AM

I just have to say that I'm really saddened by the lack of respect displayed in the comments here. I understand how it might be frustrating to suddenly be listening to something that you vehemently disagree with, but still, do you ever stop and think that you might be putting Mr. Krulwich in a position to apologize for his religious beliefs? That is just wrong. As he chose to share a unquestionably personal and deeply felt sermon, I'm sure that he cares to a certain degree about what the listeners of the podcast think. So you decide to reward that with mock vomiting and obscenities? Criticism and debate can be healthy, but seriously, folks, we can be more civil than that. All this makes me think that RadioLab should do an episode explaining the psychology behind the lack of inhibition on online forums.

Part of the reason why I listen to the show and the podcast (two very different things, as I see it) is because I enjoy the personalities of the hosts. I wholly trust them to make something that I can appreciate, to varying degrees. RadioLab is not a perfect show, they try too many new things for that. Let's keep it that way, or else the unique spirit will be lost.

Apr. 10 2009 10:35 AM

People who are so intolerant of religion that they can't accept a concept being illustrated in a manner that involves it are every bit as closed-minded and cut-off from reality as those that they eschew. Atheism is a strong personal conviction, just as monotheism and polytheism are. There are people who consider it a religion in and of itself. And what I'm reading from so many angered listeners in this comment thread seems to be the notion that because something doesn't fall in line with their particular subscription, they shouldn't have to acknowledge it. There's something pretty hypocritical about that. You shouldn't give yourself fully to any belief system that makes you cover your ears. That's what religious zealots do. Cult leaders. Televangelists. They become deaf on purpose. This is no different.

I don't believe a damn thing, and I immensely enjoyed this podcast the same way that I enjoy a good Aesop fable. You're being conveyed an idea. The story itself is secondary. It's unfortunate that so many people are letting their pigheadedness stand in the way of a thought-provoking episode.

Apr. 10 2009 04:41 AM
Leonard Ritter

O-kay, that was quite american and solemn, I have to say, and certainly risky, as the show is mostly about science, and so far has always lived from enchanting the real, less from enchanting the unreal, and that's what I came to expect.

I have read and enjoyed a much better writing that deals with Abraham's sacrifice, "Fear and Trembling" by Kierkegaard. In this philosophic book, Kierkegaard honestly, as an agnostic, tries to find out why Abraham wasn't a lunatic, and does an incredibly good job at explaining it. Deeply recommended.

As for everyone else being angry and disappointed: Radiolab is a present. You don't reject presents. You can discuss them, or even ignore them, in silence.

Apr. 10 2009 04:11 AM

Oh Robert, you made me ccccccrrrrryyyyy!!

I see so many comments on here praising this podcast and so many from those who were upset by it, but I think we are failing to realize what we all have in common on this issue. None of us--atheist, Christian, etc.--know why we are here. We experience the natural world everyday in awe. Science can tell us that things like altruism serve an evolutionary purpose to create social contracts which protect our genes and perpetuate them for future generations. Faith can tell us that we do good things because love leads us to heaven. But regardless, we are all here in a world where emotions like Noah's, Abraham's, and Isaac's govern our lives. This episode spoke of things I understand so fully, yet not at all at the same time. It left me thinking...and isn't that the point of Radiolab? To make us pause and wonder?

Good job. Now let's mix it up and talk about polar bears or something.

Apr. 10 2009 03:48 AM

Every artist has their critics. It is a little scary for myself, who is not religious, to see the knee-jerk reaction of so many. The piece was clearly identified and was not being sold as science or ultimate truth. Thank you Jad and Robert for sharing your views, thoughts, and creativity with us no whether or not we always agree with them.

Apr. 10 2009 01:00 AM

It feels a bit shortsighted to treat Radiolab as a purely scientific podcast. If it were, it would be far less interesting. I find that what makes Radiolab a truely great podcast is when it approaches the scientific and pushes it to the point where science can no longer provide answers.

While this particular episode has no science to speak of, it asks questions and addresses fundamental aspects of the human conditions; and was quite beautiful.

Science is underpinned by a desire to ask questions and better understand the world around us. While our knowledge-base has moved far beyond that experienced by a pre-common era audience; it is naive to argue that science is somehow completed and absent a sense of awesome wonder.

A faith does not make one "anti-science". Nor does a belief in science make one an atheist. It is a painfully weak theology that needs to castigate science and represents a far too simplistic God.

Lest I open myself to disparagement; I am a PhD Chemist, a firm believer in evolution, and an acceptor of a physics explanation of cosmology. I am devoutly religious, and accepting of a vastly complicated God.

Apr. 09 2009 10:20 PM

This is another superb exploration into the depths of a very interesting topic. I can't tell you how much I appreciate each episode, no matter whether the subject is biblical, astrological, evolutionary or revolutionary. I always seem to find my mind expanded and tantalized and enlightened, no matter whether the subject is scientific, moral, hotly debated or merely questioned. I find it quite amazing and sad that so many are not able to realize those same benefits.

Superbly and beautifully spoken, Robert! Bravo!

Apr. 09 2009 09:17 PM

To Adam E:

You make a valid point, Krulwich's essay would not come off as staggeringly new to someone with a degree in religious studies. Likewise, other radiolab episodes would not be untrodden territory to someone with a degree in cell biology or neuroscience. So it goes.

As far as trying to glean meaning from "horrible stories" goes, I think you are missing the point. Krulwich wasn't engaging in a theological discourse, the religious or moral aspects at play were more or less irrelevant to the major ideas being presented. He could have used any story, but a bible parable worked especially well, because as you of all people probably know, religion is a great starting point for discussing doubt, subjectivity, humility and rationality. Considering those were the concepts at play, not Abrahamic apologetics, I think it was an apt structuring device. Additionally, these major themes being explored are extremely relevant to other radiolab episodes - they just weren't explicitly linked to hard science, though the relation is fairly obvious.

These are just my thoughts. I am in no way religious myself, It just upsets me that people would be so openly hostile about something mere for mentioning the bible.

Also, to whomever recommended "Religulous." Man, that's gross. Talk about pointless intellectual circlejerk.

Apr. 09 2009 09:12 PM

I'm confused by the people who took such a derisive stance on this podcast. This was not about religion and it certainly wasn't about christianity. It was about the humility and humanness of unknowing among other interesting questions. People who are angry because a bible story is discussed are really missing the point.

I'm disappointed in the LISTENERS, not Krulwich.

just the opinion of another agnostic atheist.

Apr. 09 2009 08:51 PM

Please. Can we get back to science?

Also I'm disappointed that you don't object to a father killing his son because God told him to; yet, in a previous interview, you seemed to be fairly critical of scientists 'playing God' because they made E. coli smell differently.

Apr. 09 2009 08:11 PM

The negativity of so many commenters here is impressive. Jad and Robert have provided us with simply an amazing amount of fantastic material and come at the topics at hand from many, many different angles.

Robert, this time around, shared something of himself here and some of you perhaps learn something when you remember that this podcast isn't about you. Or Robert.

The questions he raises here are valid and perhaps instead of personalizing the things that people say, you realise it's not all about you. Take a moment and reflect. If you think the stories he presented of Abraham and Noah are abhorrent, that's not the point of the story either. Your "value" system isn't the focus - it isn't about what you believe... it's about the questions that are raised by these stories.

It would be great to think that there is a higher power at work here. That's hope. For otherwise there is only ourselves and therefore WE are responsible for what we have done. Not pretty.

Robert, thanks for a thought-provoking speech. You have a gift for story-telling.

Apr. 09 2009 08:07 PM

Mr. Fathful: Lets be clear. Anyone who really thinks god is talking to them, is a psychopath. No exceptions.

And to anyone who cried due to these stories, I hope it was in horror.

Apr. 09 2009 06:51 PM

Thank you Robert and Jad for all the great podcasts.

I would wager that most of people that gave negative comments did not listen to the entire podcast. The biblical story Robert told just framed the larger question that every self-respecting human being has asked: Is there some ultimate purpose in light of both the beauty and suffering we see? Those who think they hold the answer to this question have not given it enough thought.

Apr. 09 2009 06:45 PM
Marc Naimark

Ummm... When I think of Noah battening down the hatches, I don't imagine the animals left behind. I imagine the people, Noah's friends and neighbors, screaming, desperate, pounding on the sides of the ark.

And this man in the sky about to murder them all, about to destroy these souls he supposedly created. And Noah, stuffing his fingers in his ears to drown out the sounds of his dying friends and neighbors.

No wonder he took to drink.

Apr. 09 2009 06:07 PM

I just kept waiting and waiting for the punchline to this podcast and it never came. The story of Abraham and Issac is morally reprehensible, and the story of Noah's flood doesn't stand up to the least bit of scrutiny. But both were presented -- almost literally -- as gospel.

And I was equally put off by the implications that even if I don't believe in the monster god from these myths I'm still expected to accept that there's some teleological influence guiding me and the universe at large. I object to all of these things but I guess there isn't any room for my thoughts during "holy week".

Most of the silence that I'm being expected to revere in Robert's homily is essentially a function of very poor story telling. Please don't do this to your podcast or to me again.

And finally: talking baby chimpanzee? The hell?

Apr. 09 2009 05:52 PM

By the way, I think the voice repeating that in my head must have been the Voice of Jad Abumrad.

Apr. 09 2009 05:04 PM

I am of two minds on this podcast. On the one hand, it is, as always, a pleasure to listen to Mr. Krulwich use his mind and his gift for telling stories to explore the human condition.

On the other hand, throughout the story, just one thing kept shooting through my mind:

-- What's the big mystery here? Use Occam's Razor, Krulwich! This is a story written by a person (or persons) with a stunted sense of human morality about the despicably evil god they've created for themselves. This story and the people who wrote is aren't worth this degree of respectful consideration. --

Apr. 09 2009 05:02 PM

This episode left me unaffected either way. I hope Robert and friends enjoyed making it though.

Apr. 09 2009 04:42 PM

Thanks for a very thoughtful show; and for sharing it. I also was surprised at the subject matter - that of things we can not define, and yet hope for -, but in my case, pleasantly so. If we refuse to share a table with both science and religion, than we are missing out on entire universes of knowledge that can continually teach and shape each other. Storytelling is a marvelous way to make an attempt at asking better questions. Is it not an ever more amazing place, this world, for not having clear answers to all we see?

Apr. 09 2009 04:14 PM

Another non-believer chiming in to voice my love of this podcast. "Good, God" I loved it. Thanks Robert, and thanks Radiolab for asking the tough questions and being open to considering all types of answers.

Apr. 09 2009 04:04 PM

I absolutely love this podcast. With that said, this particular episode seems… well, a bit off. Alright, WAY off. I am all about curiosity and absolutely love religious mythology, but a “sermon” doesn’t really fit with the vibe Radiolab has cultivated. I hope this doesn’t become a common occurrence on the show. If it should, please provide a heads-up in the description so we can opt out of downloading it.

Apr. 09 2009 03:38 PM

Bible stories???? WTF!!!

Apr. 09 2009 03:21 PM

Simply wonderful.

I intended to simply say that, but after reading some of the other comments about the show I feel I need to say something else. A few comments have been made about how a religious subject should not be in a science show. Scientist are not without some sense of something greater than themselves. It can be a "God" or the next question that needs answering. Whatever "God" it might be or whatever question it may be does not matter as long as we maintain the desire to ask WHY. That is the difference between those of us that live in the pursuit of answers and those who just accepts an answer that is simply simple. Asking the question "WHY" is what this show does better than most other radio shows. Also it is Robert's and Chad's passion and compassion for the subjects that gives their show the devotion that we the listeners give by tuning it in or listening to the podcasts.

As I said in the beginning this was simply wonderful. I needed this show. I am not a believer in a God that sits and makes demands of us for signs of devotion. That God I feel is our own creation. In our world where it seems that so much is being done in a name of a God that says it is ok to kill the innocent so that we can scare more people to our views, and for what greater glory in the next life? They failed to ask, "Why not this life."

I am a long fan of this show. If you need to know why it is the thoughtfulness and devotion to their craft which hits a mark reguarly and willingness to dare ask the question, "WHY". Robert and Jad thanks for asking "WHY" and thanks for helping us if not with answers but maybe different insights.

Again it was simply wonderful and thank you for sharing this with us.

Apr. 09 2009 02:58 PM

"Here at Radiolab we explore big ideas and ask big questions to see how the world works. To do that, we often talk to scientists who are trying to answer those questions by doing experiments and gathering data. But there are some questions that don’t give in to experiments and data, so we humans decided a long time ago to make stuff up to fill in the gaps. And with two such make believe occasions, Easter and Passover around the corner, we decided to take on one of those questions, not through science, but through a story about the crap we made up awhile ago."

Apr. 09 2009 02:52 PM

I can't even express how much I look forward to the RadioLab podcast, and how I'll stop everything to listen to a new one, but I can't figure out the best word to describe this one. Rubbish? Tripe? Drivel? It felt like church, and I learned nothing. I think I felt my dendrites either snapping off or shrinking. Please, no more of that kind of garbage. Sorry Robert.

Apr. 09 2009 02:29 PM

Just want to chime in that I love the show but was pretty appalled by this episode. The religious zeal in Robert's tone was pretty terifying given the subject of child murder. There are countless examples of modern-day murders who also thought God was speaking to them. Why no mention of them?

Apr. 09 2009 02:02 PM

I'll have to side with those commenters who are confused by the vehemence of those denouncing this particular episode. Yes, it's not what RadioLab regularly runs. But don't we expect Jad and Robert to keep pushing the boundaries? I listen to RadioLab because it pokes at big questions. It's never been purely about science. So while I will admit that I don't agree with all of Robert's conclusions and found much of what he said a bit unsettling, it was still interesting and worthwhile to listen to. I would hope that RadioLab continues to put out work that makes me a little uncomfortable. The big questions should.

Apr. 09 2009 01:39 PM
Frank C.

There is a serious war going on right now between "Creationist" and "Evolutionist". This episode of "RadioLab" helped to tip the scales in favor of the ignorance of the "creationist". Robert spoke of "hope" in this episode. Will "hope" save the environment? Will "hope" get us to Mars? The world needs science now more than ever Robert. I "hope" you understand that you lost a listener!

Apr. 09 2009 12:26 PM

Robert, you spoke with such beauty and passion. Thank you for giving me that gift.

Apr. 09 2009 11:51 AM

I have been working in church as youth minister for while and have been trying to introduce 'Radiolab' to as many people as I can since need for us to think is absolutely essential. Having come from tradition of faith, practice of think for ourselves is not a discipline that comes neither easy or appreciated. And yet, it is very essence in what God is asking us to do, to think and become ever like God.

In my tradition, I feel often pressure to teach lessons of how all the heros in the bible seem to be blindly obedient to what God seem to command them, but often they forget it was done in silence of questions and doubt that they sought after higher understanding, that whatever that we loose, big or small, has been accounted for and that God has things under control.

Recently, I have come across more Christians that instead of trusting God in this manor but to simply depend on God to do things for them. Whatever problems rise, most of them simply do what is necessary to cover their base and be indifferent to sufferings of others.

I love Radiolab, because it speaks my logical side that appreciate truth in terms of science, and that love became deeper today since it made a union that evidence and belief doesn't have to become opposite end of understanding truth.

Thank you

Apr. 09 2009 11:46 AM
Brian Gillespie

Having been to many different houses of worship and heard numerous sermons, I'd have to say this was one of the finest. It is a very powerful argument for those questioning the world's injustices at the hands of a just and compassionate god.

The major fault with the argument is the premise assumes the Old Testament is true. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming please.

Apr. 09 2009 11:42 AM
Mr. Fathful

I find it fascinating and terrifying at the same time that people say they can 'talk to god' and they become prophets and leaders of nations, while others are dismissed as psychopaths.

I listen to radio lab because it is a UNIQUE program. It brings unique points of view to everyday life. To me this didn't sound any different than if I had randomly selected a religious podcast and listened to it. It was yet another discussion on the interpretation of the bible and religion. The 'WHY ME? WHY ME! god has a plan' discussion, . Please refrain from the mundane interpretations that are impossible to wrap your head around unless you are some religious zealot and get back to your UNIQUE points of view. These involve things ALL your listeners can enjoy. I have been recommending radio lab in the past, now im not so sure.

To that person who said this is a free podcast - GO CONTRIBUTE TO NPR NOW.

Apr. 09 2009 11:34 AM

I just cried on the bus listening to this.

Apr. 09 2009 11:05 AM

I'm usually a huge fan of the show, but this was a disappointment. Where was the critical debate? Where was Jad?

I would have enjoyed an objective analysis of a biblical story with some relevant moral. Instead, we get an apologists rehashing of perhaps the most morally bankrupt of all the bible stories (and that's a fierce competition).

The twisted logic of this piece is evident when Robert says (I'm paraphrasing here) Abraham's love was so great and powerful that he agreed to murder his son. What? What kind of moral philosophy is that. If this story had come from any other place besides a religious text, we would rightly condemn Abraham as a lunatic.

Are we not adult enough to reject child murder for any reason?

Robert also attempts to remake Abraham's cowardly silence into a virtuous act -- unsuccessfully in my mind.

It appears that the real RadioLab that's insightful, rational, empirically based and morally grounded is on vacation. I hope it comes back soon.

Apr. 09 2009 09:52 AM

This podcast was totally unexpected--and to be honest, when Jad said that it was a sermon, I was a little put off at first. But I'm so glad that I stuck around for this. It's made me cry and even, dare I say it, blubber. There are some parts I kinda disagree with, but the passion (even if it's quiet passion) with which this is spoken is great. I love this episode and I'm sure that I'll listen to it again.

Apr. 09 2009 07:48 AM

Who is forcing all you complainers to listen to this particular podcast? Get over yourselves.

I'm not a religious man either, but I still found something in this episode. Radiolab isn't just a 'science show', it's a show about stories and questions and provoking discussion and thought.

Maybe it's a good time to remind everyone that Radiolab is a FREE service that owes you precisely nothing. Maybe instead of bitching about the content of one single podcast, you should be spending your time creating something even half as inspirational and fascinating as any Radiolab episode.

Apr. 09 2009 06:54 AM

One more thing. For those of you who disapprove of this podcast, and have so much to say. “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Each episode is an investigation - a patchwork of people, sounds, stories all centered around one big idea”. Had any of you read the “About” section, that is what you would have read. In addition, had any of you actually listened to the show, both Jad and Robert clearly state what this podcast was about within the first minute and a half of the show. What part of “Holy week, Easter, Passover, Bible stories, and sermon that Robert gave at a synagogue” did you not understand? Some of you sound like people who would listen to Shawn Hannity, and those Fox network idiots.

Apr. 09 2009 04:41 AM

Robert & Jad, First off... Thank you for letting me listen. I disagree with many of these posts. I thought you did a stunning job. It was heartfelt, and thought provoking, as your show always is. You both have a way of moving all who listen with an open mind. I can’t wait until your next season, and look forward to everything you two put out. I have never been disappointed. Thank you both for doing what you do. Take care.

Apr. 09 2009 03:54 AM
Captain Moonlight

WTF...Was that Radiolab? Jad, where the hell were you while this show was being recorded? That Mr Krulwich gave me the heebie-jeebies... Please don't let him do it again... at least not on Radiolab.

Apr. 09 2009 03:09 AM
Adam E

In response to PT: You said that we're "afraid of new ideas." Well, speaking for myself, I have a degree in Religious Studies. I grew up in a religious household. I wanted to be a priest for a long time. I've read everything from Aquinas to C.S. Lewis to Rahner. Mr. Krulwich audio essay is nothing new. It's been repeated throughout the centuries for a very long time. If you've ever picked up pretty much any Christian book, you've heard the same thing.

And in response to Nicholas: This podcast was not science, and that's what this podcast is SUPPOSED to be about, right? If we wanted to listen someone drone on and on about the Bible and try and glean some bit of meaning of it's horrible stories, we'd go read Mere Christianity or turn on a religious podcast.

Apr. 09 2009 02:59 AM

Well said Nicholas. Be open minded, I'm "religious" as you may label me, but that doesn't mean I treat science like it's some kind of a devil. Being an atheist or whatever does not give you the right to be so ignorant and narrow-minded.
I thought it was brilliant work, I need to listen to it a few more times to understand it better.

Apr. 09 2009 02:10 AM

To anyone who didn't like this podcast:

Seriously? Do you just turn off your brains as soon as the bible gets mentioned? It sounds like so many of you just retreat to this unproductive pat-yourself-on-your-atheist-back though loop as soon as religion is mentioned in even the most tangential way. This did not strike me as a theology discussion at all, and even if it were, so what?
What kind of person has their day ruined by hearing someone engage in a well crafted discussion of rationality and doubt in the human experience?

I'm not a religious man, but jeez, not believing in a religion does not mean its okay or highminded to be dismissive of anything that mentions it.

Where will that even get you?

Apr. 09 2009 01:33 AM

I enjoyed this thought provoking podcast. I believe religious people can believe in and appreciate science and its fruits while maintaining their faith (theistic or atheistic). Much of the media coverage of the relationship between science and religion is dominated by people who are not interested in having a genuine dialogue between science and religion but wish only to impose their religious worldview (be it theistic or atheistic) on others. To my mind, this podcast sought to have an authentic dialogue between science and religion. I am grateful for that.

Apr. 09 2009 01:31 AM

Wonderful job Mr Krulwich,

I don't understand how any of these listeners can feel so outraged for being exposed to a deeply felt and eloquently expressed discussion of human thought and subjectivity. Anyone who is outraged after listening to this has some serious intellectual insecurities, or at least a zealots fear of new ideas. Just because a story from the bible was used as a frame for Krulwich's thoughts doesn't mean it was a sermon. It was the meditations of an intelligent man.
The bible can be approached as more than just a religious text. Some of the greatest minds in history have used the questions raised by the bible to spark their most creative achievements. The entire philosophy of existentialism, which many of the detractors above probably identify strongly with, finds its roots in Kierkegaard's discussion of this very same story.

So relax, be glad you had the chance to hear something interesting.

Keep up the good work!

Mr Krulwich

Apr. 09 2009 01:18 AM

P.S. When is Radiolab JUST about science?

Apr. 09 2009 01:05 AM

Thank you so much for this, it's made my night and prompted me to pick up my Bible again. It's gotten a bit dusty.

To answer Arthur's question, the music is called Le Tunnel off of Sylvain Chauveau's album Nuage.

Apr. 09 2009 01:00 AM
Mike Meiser

I'm not a religious guy, but I really enjoyed Krulwich's essay. Why did life happen? Why death? Why? These large questions lie just under the surface of all human thought. Their ultimate answer is "Silence". I loved it, Robert.

Apr. 09 2009 12:31 AM

I'm not sure what to make of this podcast but am wondering what the closing music was?

Apr. 09 2009 12:07 AM
Adam E

This particular podcast does not belong in this series. If I wanted to listen to a religious podcast, I'd subscribe to them. I subscribe to this podcast because it's about science.

Unfortunately, when I tuned in today, I didn't science. I didn't get rationality. I got a religious sermon that attempted to squeeze out a drop of meaning out of a few very deeply flawed stories. First of all, the story of Abraham and Isaac is FAR from "unique" in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, as Mr. Krulwich says. On the contrary, the Bible is FILLED with stories of children being murdered at the command of God or at the hand of righteous soldiers of God. Take, for example, the time when God commanded Joshua to lay siege to and then destroy ALL the inhabitants of the city of Jericho, including men, women, animals, and even innocent children. Or how about Jephthah, who promised God to murder the first person he came across after returning home from winning a battle - and who greets him but his little daughter (who did he EXPECT would greet him, anyway?), who he sets on fire.

Morally offensive stories PERMEATE the Bible at every level. An honest, rational person looks at these stories and, if he is truly being honest with himself, rejects them as a source of moral teaching. You could study the Bible for decades and get nothing better than the vague sorts response that Mr. Krulwich gave.

Apr. 08 2009 11:44 PM

I almost feel offended by the decision of the authors to throw a cheap tag, such as "the most powerful questions in the universe" etc, etc, as a catchphrase for this flat sermon. With pathos and artistic skills, Robert, you cannot compensate for slacking off.

Radiolab became one of my favorite podcasts ever after I first listened to your show about the dreams and the brain a couple years ago. What happened to Radiolab lately is a mystery to me. But seems like either you are out of ideas, or out of interest and desire to keep up with the quality of science shows I was so addicted to.

Apr. 08 2009 11:36 PM

John Green's comment times a million.

Also, can't you tell that this is a story whose only purpose is to promote faith over thinking? It's as anti-science as it gets.

Apr. 08 2009 10:40 PM
Jason I.

I am a Youth Pastor at a traditionally conservative church in NYC. I love Radio Lab and listen to each and every podcast. I believe strongly that religion need not fear science, or vice versa. Faith has it's set of concerns and science has another. Both of which can deepen peoples understanding of the world we live in.

Thank you for doing this story. Not because matters of "faith" don't get their due (as rightly pointed out NPR does have 'Speaking of Faith' podcast). But it is important that in every circle of social, scientific, or religious study we come to understand, learn, and re-butt each other in ways that further our understanding of humanity.

Apr. 08 2009 09:14 PM

Did I tune in the wrong show? Is this RaioLab or Speaking of Faith? Robert nice show but needed to tie in more science.

Apr. 08 2009 08:54 PM

Robert and Jad, that was a beautifully told story for Passover and Easter, but as a big fan of Radiolab I am really starting to wonder (like many other listeners it seems) where the science in your science show has got to...

Apr. 08 2009 08:53 PM

Krulwich, your unanswerable questions are all addressed in the brilliant documentary Religulous. After hearing this I feel dirty, need to shower. Yikes, religion. I thought Robert was a reasonable man. Very disheartening.

Apr. 08 2009 07:43 PM
The Intrepid Snail!

Here is a better take (in podcast form) on the abraham story:,712,Blame-Abraham,Patrick-McLean

Apr. 08 2009 07:36 PM

How is the take away message from the story of Isaac's attempted murder of his son not that God is a massive douche? Requesting the slaughter of the innocent is morally reprehensible. If God told me to kill someone I would tell God to go F himself. Just because something is in the Bible does not mean that it is moral (even if it is God doing the talking). Please refrain from dedicating an entire podcast to the beauty of massively flawed bronze age ethics.

Apr. 08 2009 07:30 PM


Apr. 08 2009 07:28 PM