The Scientist Takes No Position on God
Atheism is not a scientific position, just as belief in a God is not. Scientists find spiritual fulfillment in natural laws. It's interesting to note that the scientist taking no position on god bares a remarkable resemblance to not believing in god.
Folksonomies: science religion god
You want a physicist to speak at your funeral. You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
And at one point you'd hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.
And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.
And you'll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they'll be comforted to know your energy's still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you're just less orderly. Amen.
As I've said, I've never believed in God, which technically makes me an atheist (since the prefix "a" means "not" or "without"). But I have problems with the word "atheism." It defines what someone is not rather than what someone is. It would be like calling me an a-instrumentalist for Bad Religion rather than the band's singer. Defining yourself as against something says very little about what you are for.
That's my biggest objection to the wave of atheist book^ks and Web sites that have come out in the past few years. Simply put, atheism does not offer a constructive worldview. Embracing atheism can, of course, radically alter one's worldview, which I believe is the primary factor responsible for the popularity of books by the "four horsemen" (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Kitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett). But atheism forms only a portion of the naturalist perspective, and a negative one at that. Calling someone an atheist does not offer a way to build socially meaningful relations and institutions. It narrows perspectives rather than broadening them. Nor does atheism necessarily imply a sure path to knowledge, which I believe can be found only through the study of nature, of life, and of human societies. It i not clear how to put atheism into action in our society. Atheism as a term seems only to make people angry, whether adherents or detractors.
There's another problem with defining yourself in opposition to a particular worldview. Because atheism is defined through negation, it's never clear which meaning of "God" one opposes. Some believers revere an interventionist God who regularly influences physical events. Others believe that God rarely if ever exerts any influence over human affairs. Some people believe that God is evident in nature, while others believe that the existence of God can be revealed only through supernatural revelation. Many people believe in more than one god or even in a vaguely defined "spirituality" that does not require the existence of a specific god or gods.
Atheists can hold a similarly broad range of views. For example, an atheist can be someone who has no belief in gods because of a lack of interest in the subject, or someone who believes that gods do not exist. These latter atheists may be proponents of a specific philosophical position that acknowledges the possibility that proof of God's existence might materialize someday. Some people believe that not enough evidence exists too prove or disprove the existence of God, and therefore call themselves agnostic. But if they believe that not enough evidence exists to prove the existence of God, they meet at least one criterion of atheism. and their attitudes about most things may be indistinguishable from those who call themselves atheists. Similarly, people who consider themselves "spiritual" may be de facto atheists, even if they don't call themselves that.
I don’t think you can refute creationism. Science only explores the natural world, not the supernatural world, and God is a supernatural question. Even creationists will admit that God is supernatural.
The question of God is not a question that’s answerable by science because you can’t create an experiment that shows God doesn’t exist. That’s what scientists do. They create experiments to prove the negative. In fact, most of science is failure—failure to prove your hypothesis. If you can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, there’s no way you can prove that God does exist. It’s not a question valid to science.
Science, for me, gives a partial explanation of life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience and experiment. Your theories are those which you and many other people find easiest and pleasantest to believe, but, so far as I can see, they have no foundation other than they lead to a pleasant view of life ... I agree that faith is essential to success in life ... but I do not accept your definition of faith, i.e. belief in life after death. In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining ... I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world.
While it is true that scientific results are entirely independent from religious and moral considerations, those individuals to whom we owe the great creative achievements of science were all of them imbued with the truly religious conviction that this universe of ours is something perfect and susceptible to the rational striving for knowledge. If this conviction had not been a strongly emotional one and if those searching for knowledge had not been inspired by Spinoza's Amor Dei Intellectualis, they would hardly have been capable of that untiring devotion which alone enables man to attain his greatest achievements.
The man in the street will, therefore, twist the statement that the scientist has come to the end of meaning into the statement that the scientist has penetrated as far as he can with the tools at his command, and that there is something beyond the ken of the scientist. This imagined beyond, which the scientist has proved he cannot penetrate, will become the playground of the imagination of every mystic and dreamer. The existence of such a domain will be made the basis of an orgy of rationalizing. It will be made the substance of the soul; the spirits of the dead will populate it; God will lurk in its shadows; the principle of vital processes will have its seat here; and it will be the medium of telepathic communication. One group will find in the failure of the physical law of cause and effect the solution of the age-long problem of the freedom of the will; and on the other hand the atheist will find the justification of his contention that chance rules the universe.
WE HAVE, it seems, a fierce attraction for spirits: auras, angels, poltergeists, disembodied souls, out-of-body experiences. Mostly, I think, we are drawn to these things because we intuit—correctly, it turns out—that there must be more to the world than meets the eye. We inherit the spirit world from a time when our ancestors huddled in dark shelters at night and let their imaginations draw up creatures more or less like ourselves although lacking corporeal substance. But why should we care about angels when the season's first blackbirds spread their redshouldered wings? Why should we seek treasures in Heaven when year after year the fiddlehead ferns unfurl their silver croziers along the brook? Why should we look for out-of-body experiences when it is our bodies that connect us through the five open windows of our senses to the sights, sounds, tastes. smells, and tactile sensations of nature? If we want more than meets the eye, we should practice on this: the invisible flame of the DNA.
If you were to ask me, if I believed in god. Since I am a professional scientist, I would want to give you two answers. In my capacity as a professional scientist I would have to--I would be required to--be agnostic on the subject since I couldn't cite with scientific certainty say that there is a god and I couldn't with scientific certainty say that there isn't.
But if I were allowed to respond as just a regular non-scientist and if you allowed me to take the very same indulgences that all other non-scientists are allowed to take and that is I'm allowed to reject the training I've recieved as a scientist that taught me--that drilled into my head--not to accept anything as fact that can't be scientifically proven, but instead I'm now allowed to do what many many others do and profess--I'm allowed now to profess to know something and to profess to strongly believe it in the complete absence of facts...then I'm gonna have to say that my very strong faith, my very very strong belief is that there is not god. But on this level, on this level now, my belief is perfectly equivalent to religious belief. We're both doing the same thing.
So when a scientist says "The charge on an electron is 1.602X10^-19 coulombs." That is not an expression of belief or faith. That is an established fact. It's based on many many Galileo-type experiments, following the format that was established by Galileo 400 years ago. It is not at all equivalent to religious belief. But when a scientist says there is no god, and he's acting in the capacity of a scientist, he's not giving you a scientific conclusion on the subject, he is at that moment expressing a personal belief and opinion.
...The battle isn't really religion versus science per se. These two things are not so much incompatible as they are just not equivalent and not intersecting. I think the tension lies in the type of thinking, and the approach that is peculiar to both. One encourages uncritical acceptance of ideas and the other seriously discourages it.
I think it's impossible to be a scientist and to confront, even occassionally, the grandure, subtlety, elegance and magnificience of the universe without feeling a sense of reverence and awe, but that's very different from concluding that there's a god who issues punishments and rewards after your dead or that prayer works or that the bible is written by anybody but fallible human beings.
The word god is used to cover so many different points of view... First of all, you can be religious without believing in god. buhdists, certainly religious without without having any notion of god. Secondly, the word god, it's amazing how diverse the definitions are. Let me give two extremes. One is the sort of god that I gathered by osmosis during my childhood, which is an outsized white male with a long white beard who sits on a throne in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow. Now that kind of anthropocentric god there is, as far as I can tell, no compelling evidence for at all. None.
At the other extreme, there's the kind of god that Einstein and Spinoza talked about, not too different from the sum total of the laws of nature. Now there are laws of nature, and not only that they apply everywhere, to a quazar ten billion light years away as to the Eastern seaboard of the United States. And it's a very remarkable fact that the same laws do apply so generally. It could have been a different set laws applies in every county. So that kind of god of course exists. Who would deny that there are laws of nature.
So I claim you learn absolutely nothing about a someone's belief and if you ask them "Do you believe in God?" and they say yes or no. You have to specify which of the countless kinds of god you have in mind. I don't myself like to use the word in that context, because it doesn't illuminate at all. If I say I believe in god or if I say I don't believe in god, and I say no more, you've learned nothing about what my belief system is.
The finest emotion of which we are capable is the mystic emotion. Herein lies the germ of all art and all true science. Anyone to whom this feeling is alien, who is no longer capable of wonderment and lives in a state of fear is a dead man. To know that what is impenatrable for us really exists and manifests itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, whose gross forms alone are intelligible to our poor faculties – this knowledge, this feeling … that is the core of the true religious sentiment. In this sense, and in this sense alone, I rank myself amoung profoundly religious men.
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms-it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures, or has a will of the type of which we are conscious in ourselves. An individual who should survive his physical death is also beyond my comprehension, nor do I wish it otherwise; such notions are for the fears or absurd egoism of feeble souls. Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.
In his Spiritual Exercises, the Greek novelist Nikos Kazantzakis writes:
We have seen the highest circle of spiraling powers. We have named this circle God. We might have given it any other name we wished: Abyss, Mystery, Absolute Darkness, Absolute Light, Matter, Spirit, Ultimate Hope, Ultimate Despair, Silence. But we have named it God because only this name, for primordial reasons, can stir the heart profoundly. And this deeply felt emotion is indispensable if we are to touch, body with body, the dread essence beyond logic.
I have often quoted this passage in my various writings because it seems to capture profoundly the Deus absconditus of the mystics, the thing seen through a glass darkly, the mysterium tremendum et fascinans of the theologian Rudolph Otto, the numinous flame that burns in every atom, every flower, every grain of sand, every star-the hidden thing behind nature's veil. Can Dawkins be right and Kazantzakis wrong? Is "God" the wrong word for the "dread essence beyond logic"? Give Dawkins this: the word is indeed almost irretrievably burdened with personhood. It is our golden calf, our idol.
So this is my Credo. I am an atheist, if by God one means a transcendent Person who acts willfully within the creation. I am an agnostic in that I believe our knowledge of "what is" is partial and tentative-a tiny flickering flame in the overwhelming shadows of our ignorance. I am a pantheist in that I believe empirical knowledge of the sensate world is the surest revelation of whatever is worth being called divine. I am a Catholic by accident of birth.
Our response to the natural world is one of reverence and humility in the face of a mystery that transcends empirical knowing-now, certainly, and perhaps forever. "Agnostic" does not do justice to the celebratory aspect of our position. Nor does "pantheist" adequately express our sense of what nature hides. "Creation-based spirituality" has a respectable pedigree, although "creation" hints at an anthropomorphic Creator. "Religious naturalism" gets close to the mark.
Many films diminish us. They cheapen us, masturbate our senses, hammer us with shabby thrills, diminish the value of life. Some few films evoke the wonderment of life's experience, and those I consider a form of prayer. Not prayer "to" anyone or anything, but prayer "about" everyone and everything. I believe prayer that makes requests is pointless. What will be, will be. But I value the kind of prayer when you stand at the edge of the sea, or beneath a tree, or smell a flower, or love someone, or do a good thing. Those prayers validate existence and snatch it away from meaningless routine.