Namit and Usha are vacationing in exotic locales, as they are wont to do, and I am left to man the ramparts. Namit has craftily dropped hints that I am not pulling my weight as a contributor. His most recent post was designed to get a rise out of me, as I have strong opinions about what history is and what history-writing has become. More of that later though. For now, let us focus on a Big Question, always fascinating for those of us who have not gotten over it since our college days:
Does science make belief in God obsolete?
My attention to this question was drawn by a full-page advertisement in the Financial Times by the Templeton Foundation. The placement of the advertisement and the extracts from the thoughts the distinguished panelists piqued my curiosity. The Templeton Foundation website has the full text of the thoughts of the panelists.
Among the panelists are some popular names such as Steven Pinker and Stuart Kauffman. Christopher Hitchens, that sozzled polemicist, is featured as well. He stays true to form with his usual provocative stances, but adds more heat than light to the debate.
The headlined responses themselves show how a seemingly straightforward question can be sliced and diced in different ways. In addition to the simple "yes" or "no" there were the responses: "no but it should" , "it depends", "Yes, if by ..", "No but only if..".
When I read the essays by the panel, I found myself evaluating the essays on several fronts:
* On the background of the contributor
* On how convincing the argument was
* On the rhetorical devices employed
* On the coherence and internal logic of the essay.
Based on these criteria, I found the arguments of the two physicists the most interesting, but that clearly reflects my personal prejudices. One atheistic biologist and one believer biologist wrote what I thought were thought-provoking essays. I also thought that some of the essays were seriously diminished by the adoption of purely Judeo-Christian or Western frames of reference.
The most quotable of the lot, for various reasons, was the essay by
But you must find a science-friendly, science-compatible God. First, try the pantheon of available Creators. Inspect thoroughly. If none fits the bill, invent one.
The God of your choice must be a stickler for divine principles. Science does not take kindly to a deity who, if piqued or euphoric, sets aside seismological or cosmological principles and causes the moon to shiver, the earth to split asunder, or the universe to suddenly reverse its expansion. This God must, among other things, be stoically indifferent to supplications for changing local meteorological conditions, the task having already been assigned to the discipline of fluid dynamics. Therefore, indigenous peoples, even if they dance with great energy around totem poles, shall not cause even a drop of rain to fall on parched soil. Your rule-abiding and science-respecting God equally well dispenses with tearful Christians singing the Book of Job, pious Hindus feverishly reciting the havan yajna, or earnest Muslims performing the salat-i-istisqa as they face the Holy Ka'aba. The equations of fluid flow, not the number of earnest supplicants or quality of their prayers, determine weather outcomes. This is slightly unfortunate because one could imagine joining the faithful of all religions in a huge simultaneous global prayer that wipes away the pernicious effects of anthropogenic global climate change.