Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain and the Commonwealth since 1991 and has received honorary degrees from universities around the world. He is the award-winning author of more than twenty books, writes frequently for The Times (London) and other periodicals, and is heard regularly on the BBC. He was made a Life Peer and took his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009.
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Excerpt from book:
The Meaning-Seeking Animal
The first: In the beginning, some 13.7 billion years ago, there was an unimaginably vast explosion of energy, out of which the universe emerged for no reason whatsoever. In the course of time stars coalesced, then planets, then, 4.54 billion years ago, one particular planet capable of supporting life. Seven hundred million years later, inanimate matter became animate. Cells began to reproduce. Life forms began to appear, first simple, then of ever-increasing complexity. Some of these survived; others disappeared. Eventually a life form came into being capable of complex patterns of speech, among them the future tense and the ability to ask questions. For the first time something in the universe became capable of knowing that the universe existed, that it might not have done, and of asking, ‘Why is it here? Why are we here?’
The formation of the universe involved massive improbabilities. Had a single one of the mathematical constants that determined the shape of the universe been slightly different – even by the order of one in a million – there would have been no stars, no planets, no life. Had the evolution of life been slightly different, had the dinosaurs not become extinct, for example, there would have been no Homo sapiens, no self-conscious being and no civilisation. But all of this was accidental, blind, mere chance. It happened. No one intended it to happen. There was no one to intend it to happen, and there is no meaning to the fact that it happened. The universe was. One day it will cease to be. To the question, ‘Why are we here?’ the answer is silence.
We, members of the species Homo sapiens, are wrong to believe that our questions and answers, hopes and dreams, have any significance whatsoever. They are fictions dressed up to look like facts. We have no souls. Even our selves are fictions. All we have are sensations, and even these are mere by-products of evolution. Thought, imagination, philosophy, art: these are dramas in the theatre of the mind designed to divert and distract us while truth lies elsewhere. For thoughts are no more than electrical impulses in the brain, and the brain is merely a complicated piece of meat, an organism. The human person is a self-created fiction. The human body is a collection of cells designed by genes, themselves incapable of thought, whose only purpose is blindly to replicate themselves over time.
Humans might write novels, compose symphonies, help those in need, and pray, but all this is a delicately woven tapestry of illusions. People might imagine themselves as if on a stage under the watchful eye of infinity, but there is no one watching. There is no one to watch. There is no self-conscious life anywhere else, either within the universe or beyond. There is nothing beyond sheer random happenstance. Humans are no more significant, and less successful at adapting to their environment, than the ants. They came, they will go, and it will be as if they had never been. Why are we here? We just are.
The second: The universe was called into being by One outside the universe, fascinated by being, and with that desire-to-bring-things-into-being that we call love. He brought many universes into being. Some exploded into being, then collapsed. Others continued to grow so fast that nothing coalesced into“A figure of great stature and sometimes the center of controversy in England, where he has served as chief rabbi for two decades, Rabbi Sacks is certain to add to both his stature and the controversy that surrounds him with the publication of The Great Partnership. . . . Society needs both religion and science, Sacks argues in this innovative, articulate, and well-documented book. He effortlessly includes statistics and history, personal stories and culture-wide experiences, all of it making clear the differences he sees between the Weltanschauung of his world and that of the atheist.”
—The Jewish Week
“The Great Partnership is illuminating and sometimes genuinely moving, because of the erudition and the warm personality with which Rabbi Sacks unrolls his credo. . . . It makes a persuasive case that the bloody rhetorical war between ‘science’ and ‘religion’ is not just unnecessary; it is foolish. . . . A humane, learned cri de coeur.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“In prose that is both stately and accessible, Rabbi Sacks offers an examination of the most profound issues of faith and science that is both intellectually rigorous and generous in spirit. With an impressive range of scholarship that extends far beyond the Jewish tradition, he marshals an array of arguments for the proposition that ‘we need both religion and science.’ ”
“In clear language Sacks sets forth the arguments put forward by atheists, respectfully demolishing them in favor of the religious stance that he forthrightly espouses. The range and depth of his familiarity with authorities in both camps are most impressive [and] his erudite position is largely compelling. . . . Essential reading because of Sacks’s splendid range of knowledge and his powerful ability to tackle tough issues.”
“A brilliant exposition of the possibility of science and religion, each in its own way, contributing to a better world.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“There is a warm, accessible scholarship about Rabbi Sacks; it’s easy to see why he is such a popular sage. The Great Partnership will only burnish this reputation. After several years in which the new atheists—Dawkins, Hitchens, Hawking—have made all the running, Sacks offers an intelligent, optimistic credo that allows for the happy coexistence of science and religion. . . . For those people who know that science is right but still want to believe, this cake-and-eat-it argument is made with erudition, scholarship, and charm.”
—The Times (London)
“The learned and humane Sacks normally speaks from within the Jewish tradition. But here he is much more inclusive, drawing from Judaism, Christianity and, he claims, Islam . . . His erudition is extensive [and he] is engaging and thought-provoking throughout. His exploration of the deep differences between classical Greek and Hebrew thought is quite brilliant. . . . Without a doubt he is a wise thinker and a national treasure.”
From the Hardcover edition.