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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Science and God need not be at odds!

Many scientists — 40 percent according to a 1997 poll — believe in some form of God.

This isn't big news to scientists, but might surprise people who rely on mainstream views of science.

A handful of those folks — including Jerome Groopman, a professor of medicine at Harvard, and William D. Phillips, Nobel laureate in physics and a fellow of the Joint Quantum Institute of the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, argue that the natural world and the world of faith are relatively separate, yet personally reconcilable domains.

"I think that we are all comfortable with the idea there are plenty of things in our lives that we will deal with outside of the scientific paradigm," Phillips told about 70 members of the public who attended the discussion of these issues between himself, Shermer and AEI theologian Michael Novak. "And while I think faith is a particularly important part of our lives that we should deal with outside of the scientific paradigm, it is certainly not the only one."

Phillips, a Methodist, also drew from science to make his argument in favor of God's relevance, saying physicists know there are things that are "really, really improbable, but they are not really impossible according to the laws of physics ...! From what I know about physics, it's not impossible to imagine a world in which God acts but we never can prove it."

In her booklet, philosopher Mary Midgley, who was not at the AEI event, states that science is just one worldview that has come to prevail. Science and religion need not be at odds.

"What is now seen as a universal cold war between science and religion is, I think, really a more local clash between a particular scientistic worldview, much favored recently in the West, and most other people's worldviews at most other times," she writes.

"Scientism ... by contrast, cuts [the setting of human life in] context off altogether and looks for the meaning of life in Science itself. It is this claim to a monopoly of meaning ... that makes science and religion look like competitors today."

Worldviews that transcend that competition or dichotomy are offered in the booklet by Kenneth Miller, Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy and Stuart Kauffman.

(Miller, the lead witness for the plaintiffs in the Dover trial of 2005 (in which Judge John E. Jones III barred intelligent design from being taught in a Pennsylvania public school district's science classes), takes the classic Darwinian "grandeur in this view of life" approach. God is behind it all.)

He rejects claims that the God hypothesis makes no sense, stating that "... to reject God because of the admitted self-contradictions and logical failings of organized religion would be like rejecting physics because of the inherent contradictions of quantum theory and general relativity."

Kauffman, director of the Institute for Biocomplexity and Informatics at the University of Calgary, takes a slightly New Age tack, saying we must "heal" the schism between science and religion by "reinventing the sacred" and evolving from a supernatural God to a "new sense of a fully natural God as our chosen symbol for the ceaseless creativity in the natural universe."

In other words, he suggests that we can get around the divide between science and God if we come up with a new concept for God that focuses on the wonders of nature, among other things.

This new concept is a global cultural imperative, Kauffman writes, if we are to overcome fundamentalist fears and reunite reason with humanity and the mysteries of life.

A middle ground that incorporates science more than the other God-friendly writers is offered by Hoodbhoy, a physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Pakistan.

Science hasn't necessarily made belief obsolete, "but instead you must find a science-friendly, science-compatible God," he writes. And that is possible, he claims, calling this entity a "scientific Creator."

Hoodbhoy thinks that God can be seen as operating within the laws of physics, tweaking outcomes in small ways that have big impacts by relying on phenomena we have observed already in the universe, such as the butterfly effect (in which the flapping of a butterfly's wings alters the atmosphere in a way that ultimately alters the path of a tornado).

In his own words, here are some things She (yes, Hoodbhoy uses the female pronoun) could do, Hoodbhoy writes:

"Extraordinary, but legitimate, interventions in the physical world permit quantum tunneling through cosmic wormholes or certain symmetries to snap spontaneously. It would be perfectly fair for a science-savvy God to use nonlinear dynamics so that tiny fluctuations quickly build up to earthshaking results — the famous 'butterfly effect' of deterministic chaos theory."

Hoodbhoy ends by saying that God is neither dead nor about to die. There is still plenty of "space for a science-friendly God as well as for 'deeply religious non-believers' like Einstein ... Unsure of why they happen to exist, humans are likely to scour the heavens forever in search of meaning."

A total of 5,000 copies of the booklet became available on May 2. Free copies can be obtained at www.templeton.org.
Allan W Janssen is the author of the book The Plain Truth About God (What the mainstream religions don't want you to know!) and is available at the web site www.God-101.com

Visit the blog "Perspective" at http://Allans-Perspective.blogspot.com

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