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God and the Astronomers <br /> at the Paranal Observatory in Chile

by Michael Shermer, Jan 04 2011

In 2009, after speaking at a conference in Santiago on the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday celebration, I had the opportunity to visit the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama desert in Chile. My host was Professor Massimo Tarenghi, who orchestrated the design, construction, first light, and full operation of the VLT (Very Large Telescope), which houses four 8.2 meter telescopes and four smaller meter-size telescopes, plus the architectural-award winning hotel, restaurant, and living quarters for the astronomers, staff, and guests, featured in the latest James Bond film, Quantum of Solace. After my appointed rounds in Santiago, Massimo and I flew two hours north to the dusty coastal town of Antofagasta, then drove two hours inland through the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth, turning off the main (actually only) highway cutting north-south through this narrow strip of a country and onto the road that snakes up the mountain to this stunning cluster of buildings and domes. The long drive to and from Paranal gave us ample opportunity for reflective conversation.

When Massimo was fourteen he had a thriving stamp collection for which he was so dedicated that his grades collapsed, so his mom put the collection away and gave Massimo a book to read and told him it was time to get serious about learning. The book was on astronomy and he’s never looked back, coursing through his education at the University of Milan with a doctoral degree in theoretical astrophysics, completing his dissertation on gamma radiation from the core of the Milky Way galaxy. He then moved to Arizona where he participated in the first attempts to map the large-scale distribution of galaxies throughout the universe—those spidery/soap bubbly models of galaxy distribution you’ve seen on countless science shows. Massimo then returned to Europe to co-found the European Organization for Astronomy in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and began scouting for a location high enough and dry enough to look at the heavens.

Astronomers need height to get above atmospheric interference from wind, dust, smog, and pollutants, and especially water vapor, but it interferes with millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. This is important because half the stars in galaxies are hidden behind intergalactic dust that makes them invisible to optical telescopes, all but blinding us to half the universe, plus organic molecules such as carbon and sugar are only detectable in the submillimeter wavelength, and it is here where the origins of life in space may occur. Enter Chile and the Atacama desert, the highest desert in the world where humidity hovers around 5% and it never rains. This place is truly in the middle of nowhere. It looks exactly like Mars, except it has a blue sky and a paved road. (Just Google Earth “Paranal Observatory” and you’ll see what I mean…or watch Quantum of Solace.)

How technologically sophisticated are these telescopes? The astronomers are not even allowed in the domes at night! These telescopes are so technically complicated that they are run by engineers trained to do nothing else. (Analogy: observing a solar eclipse from a Boeing 747 does not qualify you to fly a 747.) These telescopes are at least as complicated as a jumbo jet, with hundreds of computers that micro-adjust the mirrors and coordinate one, two, three, or even all four of the 8.2-meter telescopes at once. How big are these mirrors? The Hooker telescope at Mt. Wilson where Edwin Hubble discovered that the Milky Way galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies that are all expanding away from one another from a Big Bang origin is 100 inches in diameter. Each of the VLT mirrors are 8.2 meters, or 322.8 inches, over three times the size of the Hooker (increasing the resolution power of each one by orders of magnitude over what Hubble could see), and there’s four of them!

The photographs taken by these monsters are Saganesque in cosmic stir-worthiness. There are no eyepieces on these telescopes—the photons of light collected by the mirrors are focused on and collected by spectroscopes, CCD cameras, and other devices for analyzing the data that is then downloaded onto computers and reviewed by the astronomers in the warmth of a heated control room adjacent to the domes. But if they did put an eyepiece on one of these telescopes, and you pointed it at the moon where Apollo 11 landed 40 years ago, just before you were blinded by the light you would be able to see the bottom of the lunar landing module. Now that’s a telescope!

Since the man who organized, designed, implemented, and built this staggeringly marvelous monument to human reason, logic, and ingenuity was sitting next to me in the car during our hours of isolation traversing this Martian-like landscape, given my propensity to ask anyone and everyone the Big Questions in Life our conversation soon turned to matters theological. Before I knew it Professor Massimo Tarenghi—the very embodiment of a scientifically-savvy, rationally-calculating, steely-eyed logician—was telling me that he believes in God. And not just the gossamer-fleeting pantheist-like god of Einstein and Spinoza found in the wonders of the workings of nature, but Yahweh, the God of Abraham, and his son Jesus, who was, mysteriously, fully God and fully human, whom Professor Tarenghi believes came to earth to atone for our sins, was crucified and resurrected, and will one day return. Why would a man so solidly grounded in the material world of math, science, engineering, and technology also believe in something that is seemingly the very antithesis of scientism? Given his profession Massimo’s initial answer did not surprise me: as a professional astronomer he has been continually struck by the remarkable beauty and magnificent grandeur of the cosmos that, he confessed, both his reason and his intuition tell him could not have come about through natural forces alone. It was Immanuel Kant’s “starry heaves above” argument, which for Massimo consists primarily in the origins of the universe and the finely tuned properties of the laws of nature that give rise to stars, planets, life, and intelligence. (The Kant quote is inscribed on his tomb and comes from his section on The Moral Law in his 1788 book Critique of Practical Reason:

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not merely conjecture them and seek them as though obscured in darkness or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon: I see them before me, and I associate them directly with the consciousness of my own existence.

Since we had got on so well to this point I thought it not too impertinent to counter with the multiverse argument, noting that perhaps our bubble universe is just one among a near infinite number of bubble universes all with varying laws of nature, and thus by chance and the law of large numbers some will have properties that give rise to stars, planets, life and even intelligence. (Interestingly, Massimo is convinced that virtually every star we will be studying with the upcoming space-based and ground-based telescopes will have planets, and thus there is very likely intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy; however, contrary to many of his fellow religionists, he does not believe that this will pose a threat to traditional theology or religion.) But Massimo was quick on the draw to gun down my riposte as pure speculation, barely distinguishable from his own assumption that a God outside of our space-time created our universe and the laws that gave rise to us.

Round and round we went until we arrived back to where we began (which is how most such debates go), with the conversation ending as all such conversations should, with two friends finding mutual respect for differing positions, agreeing to disagree because life is too short for anything less than an amicable dénouement. Oh, and by the way, at some point during our drive—probably when I asked him—Massimo mentioned that he was raised Catholic and is still a devout Catholic. Um.

42 Responses to “God and the Astronomers <br /> at the Paranal Observatory in Chile”

  1. Bill Lauritzen says:

    Jesus Christ! He should know better! : )

  2. Dear Mr.MS,

    I expected that you would clearly write what you said to Mr. Massimo about his god and god creation: Sure enough, however,you said it: Massimo was a catholic and still is a devout catholic. That was/is enough.

    A believer can hardly change his/her views about god and god’s attributes despite he/she being a scientist: For the ilk, science is a profession and not a stream to be imbibed as way of life; not to practice what they profess.

    The so-called “wonders of the working of the nature” are sensory experiences of mankind: No other organism, ever, has any such feeling or experiences. It is absolutely relative to human nervous activity. Had there been god for all these wonders, every living and non-living organism should have means of expressing at least what is of and about this entity.

    • Chet Twarog says:

      I really quite disagree. I was raised in a Polish Catholic family but managed to refute religion in 1970, on my own. I had finished reading the “Late, Great Planet Earth” by Evangelical Hal Lindsey considering becoming a “Christian Soldier”. However, as I considered all of the gods and goddesses the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and all the other tribes “spirit beings” worshipped, it naturally occurred to me that either they all actually existed (and still do exist (and, aren’t they all remarkably “human”) or not. And if not, all gods are human creations just as is religion and science, too.
      Our Universe, in fact, would be totally chaotic and unpredictable if any gods, spirits, ghosts, ghouls, fairies, trolls, demons, angels, demi-gods… existed.
      You’d really wouldn’t want a god would you?
      And isn’t it just too convenient to put a divinity beyond the material Universe? Sure, we can imagine and create any being as perfect as we want…but it is still imaginary, pretend and make-believe.
      And, lastly, one should read the entire “Holy Bible” or just a short book “God and Sex” by Michael Coogan.

  3. Max says:

    The “grandeur of the cosmos” doesn’t explain why Catholicism is the right religion.

    • Russel Moffat says:

      No it doesn’t but that is a separate issue. One can be an atheist and religious – theravada Buddhism for example; or be a believer in God but not be religious – Deism for example.

      Perhaps Massimo has found a “home” for himself with Roman Catholicism which suits him but he is not necessarily arguing its for everyone (unlike his clerical leaders). Perhaps if he was ever to give up his Church allegiance he would still be a theist/deist as an astronomer as many people are. I write as a Protesting Protestant who has a present “home” in Presbyterianism but who struggles with all things religious (part of our tradition!) which is why I’m drawn to skepticism (as opposed to atheism which doesn’t ding my dong at all – although I have no problems with people taking that option as long as they don’t try to make it compulsory for everyone just like religion historically has tried to do)

      • Chet Twarog says:

        Well, just why is that our species is the only species with religious faith beliefs? We are all naturally born w/o any faith beliefs but acquire them from our parents, families, our culture and traditions.
        Morality naturally evolved, too. Our species is still evolving but we’re not maturing very well. It’s time evolve from our own religious creations and become more Galactic citizens.
        For all of your religious faiths, why are we still warring and murdering and killing?
        We also tend to forgot or under-realize we all live on a planet orbiting a star orbiting a galaxy…in the immensity of the observable Universe of 13.7 billion years.

    • MadScientist says:

      Nor is it evidence for a god. I find it curious that Massimo would say he looks at the universe and can’t imagine it occurring on its own without some god guiding it. Many (if not most) astronomers look at the universe and they see a beautiful big mess which was the product of nature and does not need a god to explain anything.

      • tmac57 says:

        Massimo is simply falling into confirmation bias.Not so curious when you look at how most people reconcile their beliefs.

  4. Bill Morgan says:

    The bible is a book of myths written by men over thousands of years. No one can prove it was written by god or inspired by god. The Bible is simply folklore. Bible believers have been duped by self serving priests who profit from ignorance. It does not take much research to find out men wrote the bible and have used it for thousands of years to control other men. Wake up and smell the coffee. You have been fooled by master magicians and are believing myths they have created to deceive the masses to line their own pockets with money. Use your god given brain and think critically.

    There is no historical evidence that the man called Jesus Christ and his 12 disciples were real living people and that those events actually took place. There is no archeology proof and no historians wrote of Jesus, the disciples and those events during the first 60 years of the 1st Century. It was not until the late 1st Century that any Gospels appeared and that was myth making financially supported by the Roman ruling class in Rome who wanted to invent a new religion to replace Judaism and politically consolidate the Roman Empire with a common religion which took 300 years to accomplish. The Christ story is religious myth that does not stand up to rigorous analysis and is based on older Egyptian, Sumerian and Indian myths.

    I’m not an atheist! I believe there is a Creator Force in the Universe that we don’t understand. Some call it Deism. Call it what you want.

    • Russel Moffat says:

      Hey Bill what are you on!

      Given your last paragraph I guess we have something in common. However, the rest of your piece is a bit of a rant is it not? What have you been reading the Da Vinci code?

      I stated on a previous post that I’m a “Protesting Protestant” and therefore I’m far from being a fundametalist or even “orthodox” in my christian position. I acknowledge that religions evolve as does everything else and the Gospels themselves show evidence of this. Constantinian Christianity was a different beast from the early Jesus movement. However, a lot of what you said was unecessarily tendentious and excessively cynical (as opposed to skeptical).

      That said here is not the place to respond in detail and I doubt what it would actualy achieve as you obviously have strong opinions on this matter

      I often get a little frustrated when blogs move far off from the original post and this happens on this site as much as others so let me try and bring us back to the beginning.

      Michael doesn’t give us any information on Massimo’s christian faith only on his belief in God. How far he is an orthodox roman catholic is therefore impossible to tell and in this context is maybe irrelevant anyway as I’ve already posted it is a separate thing to his Astronomer’s awe and wonder.

      • Bill Morgan says:

        I’m not on anything. I was a member of the Presbyterian Church USA for over 50 years! I left the church over 10 years ago (I’m now 67 and retired) when my Presbyterian brothers continued to insist that the Bible is the Word of God and the Gospels are an historical account of what happened. Their minds were closed to the possibility that it is Myth. I believe there is a Creator Force in the Universe, call it what you want.

  5. Somite says:

    I wonder why it is that at least anedotically there is more religiosity among astronomers and physicists than biologists. Perhaps it has something to do with biologists having to come to grips and understand how important are the imperfections of biological systems. Astronomers mostly see order. I’m pretty sure if astronomers could see their systems and their imerfectionx at the same resolution as biologists their religiosity would be tempered.

    • Max says:

      According to surveys, physicists and biologists are nearly tied as the least religious scientists. Chemists are more religious. I’d guess that religious students are more comfortable with chemistry than with physics or biology because chemistry doesn’t challenge their beliefs as much.

    • Russel Moffat says:

      Hi Somite

      I understand what you are saying but I think there is more to it than that.

      First religions have never been based on understandings that the world is perfect. Just the opposite in fact. The struggle for life has given religions the shape and forms that they currently have. Hence the emphasis on “becoming” or transformation or transmutation or deliverance and redemption. There is a great quote by the author James Robertson in his novel the “Testament of Gideon Mack” where he describes the history of religion in Scotland (my home country) as a “Grasping at metaphysics from rock and bog.” Says it all doesn’t it. I’m often puzzled why people therefore think that evolution in this respect is a challenge to religion. It is a challenge on so many other levels and I get frustrated that my fellow believers do not see the radical need for reform in the light of our scientific understanding, but not regarding imperfections in nature which were all too apparent long before Darwin

      Second, Biologists indulge in the “awe and wonder” game just as much if not more than other scientists. A number of years ago I completed a PhD in Neo-Darwinism and Theology at Aberdeen University. As a non-scientist I remember being fascinated in the zoology department library by the “orgasms” many scientists seem to have when they were describing or extolling some biological wonder. It reminded me of the quote by JBS Haldane – “Teleology is like a mistress to a biologist: he cannot live without her but he’s unwilling to be seen with her in public”

      Finally, a quote from Ernst Mayr – “Virtually all biologists are religious in the deeper sense of the word, even though it may be a religion without revelation…..The unkown and maybe unknowable instills in us a sense of humility and awe.”

      • Somite says:

        I do think biologists live with as much, or possibly more, wonder and awe at the universe than astronomers and physicists. Probably the biggest difference is that we biologists can easily see there is no agent behind the universe’s design.

      • Russel Moffat says:

        Hate to be pernickety but don’t you think you should qualify or tweak the phrase “we biologists”?

  6. Marcus says:


    I appreciate your comments but your history is not so good.

    We can debate till we’re blue in the face when the gospels were written but to suggest there is no historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth and his disciples is not good scholarly work.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of a little known 1st century figure named Saul of Tarsus. He never met Jesus (The Book of Acts records him meeting the risen Christ…not going to debate this), but just sticking to the historical evidence in the New Testament. Saul…who became Paul wrote the 1st epistle to the Corinthian church in the early 50s. Less than 15 years after the events of Jesus’s ministry. 1 Corinthians 11 is most likely the earliest known “Christian” creed recorded. This is widely accpeted even by the most liberal, completely non-Christian scholars studying the Bible. The book of Acts was written by Luke and contains events, people, places all well known and establised in the 1st century and details Paul’s journey’s as well as Peter and others.

    There is quite a bit more evidence. Again, I’m not debating matters of faith or belief in God. I’m just simply stating your claim that the New Testament is not a good source of historical information on Jesus of Nazareth is simply not accepted by the majority of scholars.

    • Bill Dietrich says:

      The Gospels are not historical records written by Historians of the day. They are Religious Texts written by religious writers with a religious agenda! That’s a Big Difference! You will note that when you go into any Library, the religious books (Bible, Koran, etc.)are in the Religion section not the History section. This is because Historians and Libraries don’t accept religious book as texts that are recording actual historical events.

      Please don’t try to tell me that Suetonius 69-122 AD, Pliny the Younger 62-113 AD, Josephus 37-100 AD and Tacitus 56-120 AD wrote of Jesus. The problem here is that they were writing history from 80 to 120 AD. So we still have no historian writing of J.C. from 30 to 80 AD. This is a major problem. God becomes a man and comes to earth and no one is reporting on this for 50 years. Very strange indeed.

      Yet a bigger problem is that these are known frauds written by the Catholic Church in the 4th century by Eusebius 264-340 AD and his followers. There is still no historical, archaeological or scientific proof that J.C. was a real person!

    • Chet Twarog says:

      One tends to forget that Rome destroyed most of Jerusalem from @66-70 CE and none of that “HISTORY” is found in the New Testament. St Paul, the Father of Christianity, died in Rome sometime between 60-62 CE. The Christian evangelical groups composed and grew between the first Jewish-Roman War @66-70 and the second Jewish-Roman War @126-129 CE.
      And what of all the gnostic gospels?
      The New Testament created a new religion (Christianity) and a new god, Jesus, from the old religion and god, YHWH, of Judaism. And then blamed Judaism for the death of “Christ”. Much of the intolerance and persecution of the Jews followed.
      (No, I am not Hebrew.)
      Why only male gods?

    • Marcus, look at Paul’s authentic letters. He says he has no desire to know Jesus after the flesh. The only historicity he mentions otherwise is calling a certain James Jesus’ brother.

      There’s nothing historical about Jesus in I Cor. 11, either. The Greek verb normally translated “betrayed” is better translated as “arrested,” with no agent of betrayal. Even if you do translate it as betrayed,” no agent (ie, Judas) is mentioned, nor is who received him upon being betrayed.

      Acts? Quite possibly not written until the 2nd century. Definitely NOT be a companion of Paul. The “we” passages are a literary convention of Greco-Roman travel romances of that time.


  7. tmac57 says:

    as a professional astronomer he has been continually struck by the remarkable beauty and magnificent grandeur of the cosmos that, he confessed, both his reason and his intuition tell him could not have come about through natural forces alone.

    This idea seems to drive the belief in God in many rational people,but it always puzzles me why they see a need for a creator because of the wonderful features of the universe,but don’t see that this same logic implies that God must also have a creator,which then leads to an endless pursuit for a 1st cause which must either go to infinity, or accept that God just exists without a creator. To me, is no different than a universe that exists without a creator.

  8. Gary says:

    Both the Biblical account of creation and the Big Bang require a temporary suspension of natural laws, so they are both even in that respect. The main issue is what happened later: were developments guided by natural laws or God?

  9. Mike says:

    Ahh! Once again the endless arguments/discussions between the dopamine starved and the dopamine obese. This endless and mostly useless controversy just points to the biological origin of many of our most cherished opinions.

  10. Chet Twarog says:

    Why is it, after our estimated 13.7 billion years of the Universe existing, our species Homo sapiens evolved from common ancestors on a planet 4.56 billion years old. A god is certainly not needed and is our creation, as are all gods and religion, too.
    Just why would a perfect, divine being take so long and how could IT create flawed intelligence? Read the Old Testament…YHWH even says he was sorry for creating us, twice or thrice. Wasn’t “Noah’s flood” YHWH’s method for starting our species over? But “Noah” was a drunkard.
    On and on it goes.

  11. derfbu says:

    It would be interesting to know how many people who believe in a god were indoctrinated in that hypothesis while they were two to twelve years old–before the age of reason so to speak. My guess is that religion would have died out centuries ago without the intense indoctrination most children endure. We have only to remember that a duck raised by dogs forever thinks a dog is its mother; early indoctrination is indelible.

    • Max says:

      You could call anything you teach a child indoctrination, whether it’s Creationism or Evolution. How do you get around it? Teach both sides, or don’t teach anything until the child learns to think critically?

  12. BillG says:

    I find myself a bit suspect of the well educated professing a belief not in a god/creator, but subscribing to a nonsensical religion, e.g., Catholicism. Are they being intellectually honest? Perhaps it’s a default mode of upbringing – mentally shutting out and/or down, reason and contradiction.

  13. MelG says:

    When it comes to the existence of a Creator, believe what you will. You can’t prove a negative, and no one’s ever been able to prove a positive, so it’s all a bunch of talk and speculation. Fun if you enjoy it, pointless if you haven’t time to spare.

    What we choose to believe changes nothing. The universe is as it is. Facts don’t react to popularity polls.

    The only time religion concerns me is when someone with massive weapons looks forward to their afterlife (whether they’re Islamic suicide bombers or a born-again President). The image of someone saying a prayer as they push a button scares me far more than the godless Soviet menace ever did. When scriptures convince our leaders that there’s no need to plan for the future because the rapture is coming any day, well, that’s a problem.

  14. frank says:

    It would be interesting to know how many of the current believers in god/religion were taught that dogma before the age of reason. We must remember that a duck raised by a dog will forever think of the dog as its mother: early indoctrination is indelible.
    Would there be any such thing as religious belief today if this early indoctrination were not imposed on children?

    • frank says:

      I, frank, did NOT write this (above) post

      but to reply to derfbu ….

      “me! (- non-believing parents)

      and what about the multitude of ‘born agains’ ? – even in the wilds of deepest, darkest Africa.”


      the real frank

  15. Chet Twarog says:

    It really, possibly, focuses on the fear of dying and non-existence. There’s a strong “belief” in a unique “spiritual soul” (dualism) that will survive our death because most can’t contemplate non-existence after all our years of memories and experiences.
    They would rather be happy with magical thinking: “The Lord will take me when He wants me”… and you can’t convince them otherwise.

  16. Charles Sullivan says:

    Off topic, but you might be interested in this (they mention you, Michael):

    Psychic proof? Skeptics strike back:

  17. MadScientist says:

    “… over three times the size of the Hooker …”

    Actually, it’s over 9 times the area of the Hooker telescope.

    Research observatories where the astronomers aren’t even allowed within the dome have been common even before I was born, and since the invention of the CCD array there have been more and more reasons to keep humans away from the dome when operating. These days many astronomers never even see the instrument whose data they’re working with. I find that a bit weird; I like to travel and see my playthings. Some of my engineer friends see an awful lot more of these telescopes and their instruments than most astronomers ever do. To give you some idea of the size of instruments, an instrument weighing over 500Kg is considered small.

  18. As for the good astronomer, besides the “multiverse,” there’s Hume’s old standbys:
    1. This world was created by an apprentice god.
    2. This world is an “abortion.”

  19. Don Carpenter says:

    The question about the existence of god is meaningless until the term is defined. If you adopt most religious definitions, I reject it’s existence. If it could meaningfully be defined as the totality of the universe[s] I would accept it’s existence because in my understanding, there is strong evidence for the existence of the universe[s]. Disprove this one. You may not like it, but disprove it.

  20. Ed Seedhouse says:

    My general response to this is to ask if the other person is interested in converting me while assuring them that I have no interest whatsoever in converting anyone and am quite happy to have them believe whatever they like.

    If they take the bait I am then in a virtually invincible debating position since they have voluntarily chosen to bear the burden of proof. If they don’t we can have a good time together since I am perfectly happy for them to disagree with me.

  21. Steve says:

    Dear Mr. Shermer,

    It’s been more than one full week since this post was written and I am deeply saddened that it has gone by without another post.

    I found myself checking your blog multiple times per day on Jan 11 to no avail.

    If I don’t get my Shermer-fix once-per-week I go crazy.

    Still a friend of your blog,


  22. Kenneth Polit says:

    What Massimo believes is irrelevant, what he does is what’s important. He’s a first class scientist and has contributed a lot to his field. If he wants to believe in nonsense, so be it. As long as he’s not asking me to believe it. I’m a former catholic myself but I’m not anymore. We have to remember that most of us were indoctrinated into religion at our mother’s knee. Rational thought isn’t learned until much later in life, if at all. This imprinting is hard to overcome, so give the guy a break.

  23. Dick Newby says:

    I enjoy this debate by scientists. I also appreciate comments by biblical scholars. Robert Alter observes that an author of a book in the Hebrew testament and the Christian testament may “feel entirely free . . . to invent interior monologue for his . . . characters when no one but the actors themselves could have had knowledge of exactly what was said.” Steve Mason calls attention to this method in his book on Josephus, the Jewish historian that early Christian writers distorted. Scientists may not have enough time to read books by biblical scholars: Bart D. Ehrman, Michael Coogan, Richard Elliott Friedman. Or they may read “THE OXFORD COMPANION TO THE BIBLE.” They may also take a look at books by ex- RCC priest Anthony Kenny. Start with “The Unknown God: Agnostic Essays.” See what Kenny says about the Athanasian Creed on p. 111. Thomas Jefferson’s observation on the virgin birth of Mary sticks in my mind.