Is God There?

With an atheist and a religionist

Atheism has probably been debated as long as religion has been available . And, inevitably, such debate  is a not uncommon feature on talk shows. On Extension 720 we have had a number of such discussions and the one that is remembered as the  most calm, illuminating and mutually respectful occurred in 2007.  And here it is.


The Encyclopedia of Life…..

With Three biological scientists at the Field Museum

….is, as far as we know, still being put together. Ultimately it will list every one of the 465,000 species of beetles. How many ant-eaters, marmosets or orchids are there or have there been? The project started (it is not yet completed and may never be) back in 2007 when we discussed the almost infinite number of life forms with three of the contributing biological scientists. Does the vast range of biodiversity require the conception of “intelligent design” or does it disprove it?


Are We Running Out of Public Intellectuals?

With Richard Posner, Ron Grossman

A public intellectual, according to one of our guests, Richard Posner, uses general ideas drawn from history, philosophy and the sciences to analyze public problems and issues of general concern. George Orwell is an example of a great public intellectual says Judge  Posner who goes on to argue that they don’t make them as they used to. In this vigorous conversation from 2002, Posner and Ron Grossman  (and an actively opinionated program host) run through a large list of “intellectuals” who presume to explain–through their writing and broadcasting—what’s right, wrong and worth conserving or rejecting in contemporary society.


The Mysteries and Science of Language

With John Marchand and Andrew Schiller

Two linguistic science specialists join us in this conversation from 1996 as we ask and they answer such basic questions as: How did language originate? Do non-human animals ever achieve real language? What are the major families of language? Why and how do languages change and new ones emerge? If the French (actually from Normandy) had not successfully invaded Britain in 1066, would the English language exist? These and many other fascinating issues are discussed by our two guests while the host goes on to recite the middle-English prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.


Being a Black Father

With Leonard Pitts

Leonard Pitts, columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago, joined us in 2006 to discuss his then just-published book titled “Becoming Dad: Black Men and the Journey to Fatherhood.”  He deals here with problems which have persisted: how to prepare a black child for contacts with police; the effects of feminist theory upon black fatherhood; absent-father black families as a source of social pathology and as a source of suffering for the father himself. Strong stuff, strongly articulated!


Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Aging:

With Drs. David Brauner, John Hauser and Jay Olshansky

Well, maybe not everything but, in this spirited conversation with two physicians and one psychologist–all specialists on aging– we get around to almost everything including: longevity and its extension, modes of decline, methods of cognitive maintenance and, more broadly, the joys as well as the burdens of aging. My three fine guests on this program from 2005 are all now (mirabale dictu) ten years older.


The Great Eastland Disaster

With Jay Bonansinga

Over eight hundred people died in the middle of the Chicago River on an early morning  at dockside one sunny day in July of 1915. Matching the tragedy of the Titanic it is now lost in memory except for the tales still told in Chicago. Here is a striking account by Jay Bonansinga who did the definitive history and discussed it with us one night in 2004. Of equal interest are the phone calls from descendants of some of the survivors.


Fascism Then and Now

With Stanley Payne and Peter Frische

Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Horthy, Antonescu all led fascist states in 20th century Europe. And, of course , the two first listed led their nations against us in World War II. How did fascism arise? What were its central ideas and intentions? Was war essential to the fascist program? How and why did the populations of Germany, Italy, Hungary, Spain and Romania support their fascist regimes? Why and how does fascism persist in contemporary political life. These are some of he questions addressed, in 2006,  by our two guests both of whom rank very high among the modern historians of the fascist states.


Was There an Historical Moses?

With James Kugel

The Old Testament (that is the Hebrew Bible or Tanach) combines myth, allegory and, particularly in the later books, historical events. Modern biblical scholarship has worked for over a hundred years to decode the text so as to reveal the “true story” of the group that became the Jews. James Kugel is one of the leading contributors to that effort. Now at Bar Ilan University in Israel he taught before that at Harvard  where his undergraduate course in the Hebrew Bible usually drew eight or nine hundred registered students. He joined us in this program about the hidden meanings of the biblical text in a memorable discussion in 2007. Here is that discussion.


The Terrorist Bombing of London, July, 2005

With Lady Phyllis James

Fifty-Seven London bus and subway passengers were killed that day in a Jihadist terror bombing. The next day we talked with a dear London friend, the mystery novelist P.D. James who had a few years earlier been elevated to the peerage and thus was a member of the House of Lords. Lady James gave us a chilling account of what had just happened and a most insightful interpretation of this early chapter in the terrorist assault upon the West. Here is a crucial portion of that conversation.