Some brief notes from Robert Winston's talk. Much of it was visual, and the rest I didn't necessary rate worth transcribing, but there is enough of interest here I thought might be of interest to other people too.
I was also impressed by the fact Lord Winston didn't just turn up, give his talk and leave, but was present, participating in the Limmud experience, for a substantial part of the conference.
Wrestling with G-d
Jacob wrestling with the angel, alone, at night. He never sees his opponent's face, we never know whether it is himself, his conscience, G-d or an angel. But Jacob gains the resolve to cross the ford and confront his brother.
The idea of sending missives to G-d as in the Western Wall is not new: 28000 years ago, Cro-Magnons made stenciled hand outlines in the Grotte de Gaga in the Pyrenees. Of the 250 hands painted there, some of tiny children, who must have been lifted up to get there. Many are of hands with missing fingers.
Was this due to the cold of the Ice Age? No, because the thumb is invariably intact. Another possibility: ritual mutilation. But none of the bones dug up in or around the cave show evidence of digits missing. Jean Clotte, the foremost expert on the caves, believes the hands were stenciled with the fingers curled - making a symbol, to reach through the walls of the cave to communicate with the divine. In the dark, with a flickering flame and the sound of running water, these are mankind's first cathedrals.
Clotte discovered that in the cracks of the wall there are slivers of bone, of animals the Cro-Magnons hunted. These are the messages in this wall.
Religious belief is very ancient; we see this perhaps in the evidence of human burials from a lot older.
Wherever you go in the ancient world you see similar evidence of man's past and present spirituality. Stonehenge: the effort to transport the sarsen blocks from the Preseli mountains in Wales. Aztec human sacrifice at the (pre-Aztec) pyramid of the moon at Teotihuacan, on certain days up to 20k people. The people being sacrificed thought they were doing something laudable and would be going to a better place.
Experimental work about human spirituality:
Is there an ingrained instinct for human spirituality, given that all cultures show it?
A study of religious feelings in twins reared together or apart [Bouchard and others]. Monozygotic twins are much more similar compared to dizygotic, irrespective of the religious background of the adopting family, for: sabbath observance, divine law, church authority, bible truth, religious leisure time, releigious occupational interests, religious fundamentalism, etc. (figures of .43-.58). The only place where the figures do not tally is extrinsic religiousness - going to church because you want some reward, or to chat, etc. Intrinsic religiosity does correlate.
Whilst this doesn't prove anything, it is suggestive of genetic influences maintaining religiosity. Dennett (2006) argues that this was selected for because it protects human society.
So can we identify these genes? Dean Hamer (NIH) argues there are: The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes. Dopamine-like transmitters giving a sense of reward. A particular allele correlates well with spiritual people.
Why is infertility so much reviewed in the Bible? There is the urge to procreate, for one's heir to be of one's blood.
Prof Winston: Science and religion are both expressions of Man's uncertainty.