Why Should Scientists Care About Religion?

As a Muslim scientist, I spend much time and expend much energy trying to convince Muslims and other believers to take modern science seriously, with all its methodology and results – and its limits.

The reverse exercise, to try to convince scientists and other educated people that religion should be taken seriously, is much more difficult, for several reasons. First, there is an intrinsic asymmetry in the relationship: science, in addition to being a methodology and a discovery process, is able to ascertain a vast array of results and present whole swaths of established knowledge.  Today, no one can doubt that matter is made of atoms and particles, that life evolved and produced a vast tree of species, or that the universe has expanded from a singularity and is today made up of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each made up of hundreds of billions of stars, many/most of which have planets around them, etc.

On the other hand, “religion” (I’ll get to definitions shortly), while having developed branches of knowledge, with methodologies and references, cannot claim to present realms of established knowledge. Still, “religion,” in some forms and from some perspectives, can present an ensemble of highly respectable and beneficial ideas that even hardline scientists can appreciate and find useful, for humanity if not for themselves.

In attempting to explore this issue, a problem of definitional clarity presents itself right away. If the concept of “science” is more or less understood, at least by well-educated people, the notion of “religion” is far from evident and agreed upon. To make things clear, I’ll define science as a rigorous and systematic process of discovery about the world (in all its fields and features, physical, biological, psychological, etc.), a process which is able to ascertain its results through confirmatory procedures (which involve testing, peer reviewing, etc.). Modern science is not a foolproof process, but it is as close to a robust system for reaching factual and objective knowledge (independent of the subject) as we have been able to construct.

In attempting to define “religion,” however, one must distinguish “faith”, “spirituality”, and “religion.” “Faith” is the belief in something or some things (a creator, a divine force, a spirit, life after death, revelation, etc.) without being able to prove that in any objective way. (“I had a vivid, personal experience” is wholly subjective.) “Spirituality” is a feeling that there is some activity within us that is not purely material or at least happens at a higher plane than our simple bio-psychological phenomena. “Religion” relates to an organized system of beliefs (theology), practices (rules and rituals), and relations, at both individual and communal levels (church, community, society, etc.).

Recently, social scientists such as Elaine Ecklund have highlighted the importance of differentiating between “spirituality” and “religion;” indeed, Ecklund has found that among academic atheists, 22 percent describe themselves as “spiritual;” it has also been reported that 10 percent of Danish atheists call themselves “religious.” To understand “spiritual atheists,” one must keep in mind that “spiritual” for many scientists and academics refers to a feeling of awe, wonder, and mystery about the world and about all of existence. And to make sense of “religious atheists,” one must recall that some religions (e.g. Buddhism) do not have God or theism as part of their belief systems…

This brings me to the concept of “religion.” The history of western religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, have produced an image of irrational beliefs, rigid dogmas, tough rules, authoritarian systems, and sometimes rejection of scientific facts, whereby one cannot question, much less deviate from, the views of the high clergy or the statements found in the holy books.

But scientists, academics, and discerning people must not confine their ideas to such simplistic and cartoonish views of religion. Most religions, western and eastern, have developed rather advanced and sophisticated theologies. And that is what all of us, believers and non-believers, must encourage and deal with: refined, “cultivated” religion.

In my view, all religions must evolve, now much more than in the past, due to the fast advancement of human thought and knowledge. Some religions, or branches of them, have already presented very attractive, “updated” theologies, what are sometimes referred to as “liberal theologies.” One of the first criteria, or even litmus tests, for such “updated” theologies is their degree of compatibility with modern science, a sine qua non condition.

Now, assuming that one is dealing with such an advanced, open-minded, open-ended, and “updated” theology or religion, should scientists take it seriously? What is there to gain in doing so; wouldn’t science and liberalism be sufficient for the progress of humanity?

Recently, more and more, science and its practitioners have sought to claim as large and unbounded a space of investigation and explanation as possible, including all human life and society. This is generally labeled as “scientism” (often considered a rather pejorative term). This tendency is partly due to the propensity of human societies, despite modern critiques, to place scientists on a pedestal, thereby implying that they possess deeper understandings of the whole world and thus should be entrusted with all our issues to address.

But even scientists with this kind of imperialistic proclivity know that our view of the world (nature, human life, society) cannot be limited to the scientific perspective. Indeed, art has always existed and no one has sought to get rid of it simply because a rainbow can easily be explained by physics or a music tune can be recorded as 0’s and 1’s. Likewise, philosophy is not about to disappear even as some of its topics of old have been taken over by science. Similarly, religion addresses a dimension of human life and thought that can rarely be illuminated by science.

When we ask “believers” (very widely, as their “beliefs” span a huge spectrum) what religion brings to them, we usually hear the following: a personal purpose and meaning to one’s life, a perspective on things, a sense of identity, an emphasis on love as the most important factor in life, a communal bonding and support, moral guidance and compass, and a greater ability to cope with death and disasters.

From believing scientists, we also hear ideas such as “a unified worldview,” whereby the universe “makes more sense.”  As I mentioned above, the feelings of awe, wonder, and mystery are also shared by “spiritual atheists;” however, what believers find in religion is a harmonious explanation for all of existence, with its physical and metaphysical dimensions, mental, spiritual, relational, and communal. And it unifies the ideas of life and death.

The universe is mysterious and perplexing, and while one must not fill our inability to comprehend some aspects of it by postulating ad hoc beliefs, it is still a reasonable approach to consider some worldview that is able to not just give meaning to the phenomena that one observes (unimaginable vastness, layers upon layers of complexity, staggeringly intricate effects stemming from a handful of simple laws or principles) with the rest of human life and history.

Many religious academics and scientists have also indicated that their beliefs help them deal with the question of what it means to be human. Again, due to the large spectrum of beliefs that people hold, “what it means to be human” can range from “being in the image of God” to “having a spirit” or even just “a higher level of consciousness.” In any case, one can see that such personal beliefs, whether constructed for oneself or taken from the teachings of one’s religion, can be helpful in this matter.

Moreover, a number of religious scientists have stressed that their beliefs provide them with stronger ethical principles in their lives in general as well as in their scientific practice. The question of ethics in science is a vast issue that has been discussed at length by a variety of thinkers and organizations, but what higher principle must be set in order to derive ethical regulations and standards has never been obvious. And so here as in the question of humanness, believers state that their religiosity constitutes a frame of reference and a set of guiding principles to help them derive rules of practice.

To conclude, science, at least in the parts that one must regard as established, must be accepted and upheld by all, believers and non-believers, particularly educated persons. Faith, spirituality, and religion, on the other hand, are optional sets of ideas that one may choose to carry or not, in one version or another. However, educated and discerning people in particular, must strive to make faith, spirituality, and religion, as sophisticated, open, and updated as possible. Once the above two caveats are effected, science and religion can have much to bring to one another and to humanity.

At the very least, non-believing scientists – and science in general – stand to gain by understanding the religious public in order to better communicate their work and their findings, something that we all must strive to achieve, for the betterment of humanity.

It may be obvious that we cannot ignore science, with its methods and results. But it would also be beneficial to humanity if science and scientists not only refrained from trying to erase all that religion can provide and insisting on purely rational behaviors but also gleaned some of the positive contributions that it can make to humanity. There is more to the world than science can see. . .

Discussion Questions:

1. Have the terms “religion” and “religious” acquired new meanings in recent times? Has science influenced our understanding of those terms?

2.  Should “Religion” and “Science”  just be considered as totally separate “magisteria” (as in S J Gould’s ‘NOMA’, the Non-Overlapping Magisteria) or should one attempt to relate the two in some way?

3.  Will “wonder and awe” come to replace “religion and spirituality” in the future, or does “religion” have some core values that will always be attractive to people?

42 Responses

  1. mikebrown says:

    May I compliment Nidhal Guessoum on an excellent opening to the discussion?   It is comprehensive yet succinct.   For me science constrains religious though, but says nothing about human emotion, which remain in a separate domain.  I shall follow comments with much interest.

    • gandolfication says:

      I appreciate what I think is the gist of your comment here, but I don’t agree that emotion is immune from scientific inquiry and application.  I’m not a scientist, and as I’ll post shortly, think this article’s setiment is good, but actually does not go quite far enough.

      • mikebrown says:

        Thanks for the comment “aren’t human emotions studied by Psychology”.  I assume it was directed at me – Mike Brown.

        In a sense psychology is a science. It performs experiments, makes deductions and uses mathematics. However,in another sense it is not.   It has no relationship with Physics like other sciences.   There are no symbols for emotion, let alone equations describing their fencings.  The is no property of fundamental particles that can be related to emotions.  For me, we are still dealing with two domains that are mysteriously interfaced.

        • gandolfication says:

          Mike Brown,

          thanks for explaining what you meant about human emotions not really being part of hard ‘science’ in the way we think about it – interesting points.  I consider this another exmaple of the overaching point I made in my (admittedly lengthy) post about philosophy and presuppositionalism.

          Emotions, at least for now, are not describable in terms of math or pure science – and they may never be.  And yet I submit that makes them no less real or important.  They are one of the parts of reality that science is not capable of explaining or fully addressing.

        • Brown Miller says:

          When psychology is interfaced with metaphysics, the primitive state of the former – as a science – will transition into the understandable language of the latter, and all of science will make a giant leap forward.  Michael Cecil’s points are the most relevant.

  2. vasavada says:

    Excellent article.I am a retired physics professor who is more familiar with eastern, non-Abrahamic religions.I am amused by recent tirades against religion and God by physicists like Stenger, Krause, Carroll, Weinberg and perhaps others.There may be some differences between their viewpoints. I think they are using their eminence in physics to overwhelm people who do not know physics.Also they are hiding the shocking facts of cosmology, relativity and quantum mechanics. All of these imply that probably there is a world outside our sense perceptions. Comments please. Thanks.

  3. Tom Heneghan says:

    It’s refreshing to see Nidhal Guessoum show how one can defend the two poles of the science & religion debate without falling into the binary arguments that usually get trotted out about them. Both the anti-science believers and the proponents of “scientism” have made caricatures of themselves in recent years (Dawkins quite self-destructively so these days). Some of my religion studies students come into the course with these false dichotomies in their heads. This is so clear and succinct that I’ll make it an assigned reading the next time around.

  4. abed.peerally says:

    Actually the author made a state of the art description of the relationship. However I have, in my research, gone quite a long way towards resolving the integration of science, religion and philosophy. I do not however intend to complete the job in one publication. I am at my third publication( Peerally, 2008, SAJS, 104; SEAC 9 (in press); SEAC 13, to be presented). I will only here present some points from my SEAC 13 paper. “

    .The astronomical discoveries of the last few centuries have created a lot of philosophical and scientific reflections on the realities of the universe. However  recent decades have been quite widely infused with scientific concepts, often outside the bounds of experimental verification, which have made our notions of what is matter and existence more elusive to unfold thereby digging the gaps between philosophy, religion and science even more. T he purpose of the present paper, its antecedents and those to follow, is to attempt to reverse this trend. It will be shown that science can explain in an objective manner what the universe and existence stand for thus bringing philosophy, science and religious thoughts closer together.

    In this article the term Cosmological Argument is given a new definition: any argument which attempts to explain how the universe or the cosmos originated. In the traditional understanding of cosmological arguments it was restricted to views which attempted to link the origin of the cosmos to some divine intervention. Naturally that gave rise to those who are in favour, ( theists) and those who are against(atheists) these arguments often passionately. Clearly such a unilateral approach limits the scope of  cosmological arguments to an act of God, and one good reason why this should not be so is that the priority of science is to basically know how come we have a universe and not something else, irrespective of whether it was a divine act or not. When discussing the possible origin of the cosmos from the scientific angle there will be no assumption of a divine will. Readers will need to make their own judgements on where the argument swings.

    Why an Ultimate Culture is a possible phenomenon is that there is a point of view that science, religion and philosophy ultimately look for interpretations and explanations for the same fundamental realities of the universe and of humans. We need to know whether the finely tuned and orchestrated manner the universe originated was some kind of masterminding as seen in Einstein’s wish to understand the mind of God when the universe was created, or just a statistical accident as claimed by some more recent cosmologists. Arguments about the origin of the cosmos cover philosophical, theological to scientific arguments. Generally they were based on the idea of contingency to highly complicated concepts which theorize the existence of infinite universes of which our universe just luckily got all the qualities needed to produce energy, matter and life.  However certain concepts like the very successful Big Bang Theory was scientifically very attractive as it was a direct emanation from Einstein’s General Relativity, for if the universe is continually expanding, it must have been a tiny corpuscle of dense energy at some point in the past when it was created. The implication of creation in this concept alienated some scientists like Fred Hoyle who tried to circumvent the notion of a time of origin by bringing in a concept of an eternal continuously denser and expanding universe as time passes. However we yet have to see a new way of understanding the cosmos, which would be based on both circumstantial evidence at least to start with and eventually supported with experimental evidence that would allow philosophers, theologians and scientists to comfortably harmonize their interpretations and explanations of what humans and the cosmos represent in reality.

  5. ianful says:

    Nidhal Guessoum has opened a discussion that hopefully, will bring Muslims into these discussions about science and religion. It should be noted here that science and philosophy was brought to the west by Muslim practitioners and was the beginning of end of the ‘dark ages’ for us. I am a scientist, and I appreciate the rigorous and systematic nature of the scientific method, and does attempt to reduce the investigator’s influence. Science has been developed by the rational aspect of man, in order to make the world understandable and free us from irrational mumbo-jumbo, witchcraft, superstition, and even religious control.

    Religions such as Christianity and Islam are more about societal control and elimination of the individual’s relationship with God. Many Christians have voted with their feet and headed off to charismatic Christian organisations. It may not be long before there is an exodus of Muslims to some other religious expression, when they realise that their identity has been tied to a group, and they want to become individuals.  The Quran is quite specific that there is to be no one between and individual and his creator. However, most Muslims are ignorant of this and prefer to rely upon Imams or Ayatollahs as a go-between.

    Muslim scientists and engineers that I know keep science and religion separate in their lives.  Maybe it is having a bet both ways. I am also amused by Islamic evangelisers that use scientifically derived facts to validate the Quran to non Muslims.

    There is more to the world than we can see …we are limited by what we can perceive.

  6. nodoubt1 says:

    The seemingly impenetrable barrier between “religion” and “science” will only begin to dematerialize as both finite matter and time, the universe as we seeit, are understood to be no more than a way of thinking and seeing, i.e. a relative mental standpoint or state of consciousness, not in any respect an absolute.  “All”, or the way the universe looks when God sees it,  must be recognized as intellligent law and it’s expression. Or, to put it another way, substance is Mind, not matter.

  7. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    Thanks to everyone who has commented so far. I am glad my essay has (so far) been received well and has produced some good commentaries. I’ve now waited two days or so to reply, as I wanted to see a variety of ideas surface…

    Chris Brown, aren’t human emotions studied by Psychology, which has made much progress in recent times to become more “scientific” and robust? I welcome your and everyone’s views.

    Vasavada, I agree that contrary to the scientific spirit of objectivity and quest for truth, some scientists in the public limelight tend to use their academic positions and research reputations to push for a certain philosophy or ideology, an unfortunate return of the “argument from authority” that the general public often succumbs to.

    As to whether modern cosmology, relativity, and quantum mechanics imply the existence of another world or reality, I am not sure that one can easily argue for that, though I refer you and everyone to the previous BQO topic “Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God?

    Tom Heneghan, I agree that the proponents of scientism have tried to steer science in that direction, thereby making it harder for everyone to find common grounds between Science and Religion.

     Abed Peerally, thanks for including the abstract of your paper. Although without the full paper, it is difficult for me/us to really assess your ideas, I would like to say two things: a) one must be careful not to overweigh some parts of science (recent astronomical and cosmological knowledge) in favor of religious interpretations, as things have a tendency to find natural explanations later; b) yes, recently a number of scientists and thinkers have concluded that associating philosophers and theologians would be greatly beneficial to find “a common language” on cosmological and other concepts and theories. (See here: https://www.wiltonpark.org.uk/conference/wp1180/).

    More later…

    • abed.peerally says:

      Thank you Nidhal for reacting to my comment and I will certainly send you copies of my papers as they get published. There will 5 or six of them by 2015 amd the last one will present how a new theory of the universe, I believe,  will bring together these three disciplines. In this connection I like Harry’s comment among many other good ones or pointing out that the Big Bang cannot possibly account for the kind of universe we have. Actually my whole work will lead to the formulation of a new dramatic way of viewing the origin of the universe. Religion and philosophy can provide useful insights but no explanation on how the universe originated . However when the theory is developed we will see how religion and philosophy integrate with science. This is normal for science’s job is to explain phenomena and in this we need to rely  on only scientific reasoning while once the reasoning leads to a concept then religion and philosophy will provide interpretations of the concept. Unlike Harry I do believe that already there is a lot of overlapping between science and religion, in terms of the interpretation of scientific ideas. The final resolution of the apparent conflict of  religion and science can only be achieved by science producing a far better explanation of our realities of existence, of energy and matter and life, than is currently the situation. The common language on cosmological concepts and theories as Nidhal said, would only materialise if scientists show us the way. I can assert that religion cannot do this job and it is outside their terms of reference.

  8. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    Ianful, you make some valid remarks, particularly the need for people to establish direct relationships with God instead of relying on others’ directives and interpretations. And you are also right that many Muslims (and probably people from other faiths and traditions) have found it so difficult to reconcile modern science with their beliefs that they keep two different minds and lives. (The subtitle of my IQQ book is “Reconciling Muslim Tradition and Modern Science”…) This simply shows how much a reasonable common ground between science and religion is needed by millions of people. Thus, constructive models are very much welcome, now more than ever.

    Finally, nodoubt1, I don’t quite agree that matter, time, and the universe should be understood as “no more than a way of thinking and seeing” and that no common ground can be found between science and religion until we hold that view. The concept of time is certainly a complex issue that is yet to be resolved to anyone’s full satisfaction, but matter and the universe are more real than anything; indeed, the contents and history of the universe are largely agreed upon by almost all scientists – unless we are so totally mistaken as to make the science of the past century or more fully wrong…

    I welcome and look forward to everyone’s views.

  9. RandNotAyn says:

    Why not create a new field called Meta-Science which focuses on ‘statistical wisdoms’ such as quantifying Karma, how God manifests as luck, etc. etc. … it’s really the pragmatic study of statistics allowing that the causer is divine.

  10. prince195 says:

    Would have the essay been different in terms of premises, discussion and conclusions if the question were: why scientists should care about art? 

  11. gandolfication says:

    Important and well-conceived article. I think it may not go quite far enough and will use my responses to questions 2 and 3 at the end and to a few excerpts to explain what I mean.
    I tend to approach this from a more philosophical and metaphysical point of view (as my training is in law and I am merely endlessly fascinated by modern science), which is to say that I find the philosophy (metaphysics and logic – rationality itself) to be the underlying common thread between science, spirituality, faith (perhaps less so) and religion (perhaps least of all, but still resting on an essential rationality to the extent it is meaningful and intelligible, even IF its tenets may not be true).

    “Philosophy is not about to disappear even as some of its topics of old have been taken over by science. Similarly, religion addresses a dimension of human life and thought that can rarely be illuminated by science.”

    I think this is right, but may be understated a bit. We moderns tend to forget that science arose out of and is a subset of philosophy. Without philosophy (logic), the scientific process and understanding are not possible. It is rational though to conceive of laws of logic and reason, without science as we know it (as in fact was the case for the ancients). I am getting at two things here.

    1) Laws of logic and reason–which form the core of what makes science intelligible–must themselves be accounted for; and

    2) there are questions science as we know it today is not equipped to answer. Dr. Guessoum alluded to several, but I will formulate a few as “why are we here?”, “what is the meaning of life or of meaning itself?” “what is the value of art or love?” and “Why should I trust reason?” (point 1 above).

    In modern society, it bears mention that, as the great presuppositional (reformed, or perhaps ‘sophisticated’ as the author might call it?) apologist, Dr. Greg Bahnsen put it in The Great Debate (with Dr. Gordon Stein, a biologist): “Just think of the differences in argumentation and the types of evidences used by biologists, grammarians, physicists, mathematicians, lawyers, magicians, mechanics, merchants, and artists. It should be obvious from this that the types of evidence one looks for in existence or factual claims will be determined by the field of discussion and especially by the metaphysical nature of the entity mentioned in the claim under question.”

    This bears on a further point raised by Dr. Guessoum: “From believing scientists, we also hear ideas such as ‘a unified worldview,’ whereby the universe ‘makes more sense.'”
    Neither Dr. Bahnsen or I am arguing for a bifurcated world such as Gould’s non-overlapping magesteria. Quite the opposite – what we’re observing is simply that different types of phenomena in different spheres of inquiry not only lend themselves to, but require, different types of evidence, many of which cannot be called ‘scientific’ and yet we accept them as true or correct or valid.

    It is simply the case that not every claim is even nearly susceptible to the scientific method, which relies on induction and the uniformity of nature. If I say that on December 24th, 2001, I ate a ham and swiss sandwich, this may be a statement of fact, but it is not subject to falsification. And yet it may be true. One can easily imagine legion examples of factual realities that are similarly not subject to any empirical verification (history itself for example, that other minds in fact exist, that Antarctica exists, if we have not seen evidence and testing for it, etc.) and yet we have properly basic beliefs they are as real and true as anything.

    One way to define reality–indeed my own working conception–is that it is the thing that necessarily unifies, and thus does ‘make sense of’ all overlapping magesteria. The tension and seeming contradictions we so often encounter are due to the complexity and our limited understanding.

    “It would also be beneficial to humanity if science and scientists not only refrained from trying to erase all that religion can provide and insisting on purely rational behaviors but also gleaned some of the positive contributions that it can make to humanity.”
    Agree. But I would go further and again ask the question, what justification does the pure materialist have for using laws of logic and reason?

    If we are truly absolutely nothing more than matter and energy–atoms banging around against other atoms–what could it possibly mean for one mind to understand anything?

    Laws of logic and reason exist. Here I will assert that they are not merely social conventions that exist in our minds – if they were, what would that mean? These invisible, immaterial, abstract laws appear to be real in all places at all times as far as we know (it is difficult to even imagine any world in which non-contradiction for example, does not govern, let alone exist). An atheist (purely materialist) worldview cannot account for these (and even how hey show order and seem to reflect the nature of deity – invisibility, ubiquity, invariance). Philosophically speaking, there is no proof for proof.

    We must make an a prori presupposition. The theist launches out into the world initially with a naked claim that a higher power exists. The atheist launches out with every bit as much a nakedly unsupported presupposition that reason works, is meaningful and is trustworthy – and not only that – but depending on what sort of an atheist, may claim as the Dawkins and Sam Harris sort do, that the rational and physical is ALL there is. Except to problems. Laws of logic and reason are non-physical, but real, entities. And science is not an all-encompassing answer to every type of inquiry.

    The presuppositionalist arrives at the existence of the non-physical (later spiritual and ultimately god) by proving the impossibility of the contrary. If the pure naturalist has a problem in wanting to say that “the use of logic or reason is the only valid way to examine the truth or falsity of any statement which claims to be factual.”

    Quoting Bahnsen, again from the Great Debate: “If he says that the statement is true by logic or reason, then he is engaging in circular reasoning; and he’s begging the question which he [supposedly] forbids. If he says that the statement is proven in some other fashion, then he refutes the statement itself, that logic or reason is the only way to prove things.”. Guessoum ended his article here, saying “There is more to the world than science can see. . .”  (Bahnsen articulates a line of argumentation that even the athist demonstrates the existence of god when they appeal implicitly to a world view that necessarily relies on logic and reason – I won’t go into the argument at length here.  I find the idea compelling even if controversial and will let others seek out or comment on this as they may have interest).

    In my various skeptical phases, I have tried to keep in mind–and he may have been paraphrasing–Shakespeare’s admonition from Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    I would love to hear others’ thoughts and reactions to this.

  12. harry says:

    “Some religions, or branches of them, have already presented very attractive, ‘updated’ theologies, what are sometimes referred to as ‘liberal theologies.’ One of the first criteria, or even litmus tests, for such ‘updated’ theologies is their degree of compatibility with modern science, a sine qua non condition.”

    Roger Penrose, a famous British mathematician and friend of Stephen Hawking (they co-authored the book, *The Nature of Space and Time*), calculated the odds of the Big Bang producing by chance the low entropy (low disorder) Universe required for the emergence and development of life to be 1 in 10^10^123. How big a number is 10^10^123? That is a 1 followed by so many zeros that even if we were to write a zero for each separate proton and neutron in the observable universe, and a zero for all the other particles in it as well, we would fall far short of writing down the figure needed.

    My religious beliefs are rational, so they aren’t compatible with modern science in so far as it assumes that we just “got lucky” when the Big Bang mindlessly and accidententally assembled a Universe in which life was a possibility.

    • gandolfication says:


      I agree with you at least insofar as the evidence we have from math (and physics) makes the explanation that everything came about (from nothing, no less) excruciatingly difficult to accept.

      Moreover, I think the Borde, Guth and Vilenkin therom (three physicists/cosmologists) argues powerfully that a) the universe has not always existed–that is, it began to exist; b) everything that begins to exist has a cause (we cannot have an infinte regress of actual physical things); and c) therefore, the universe has a cause.

      One would have to argue that the universe came out of literally nothing (not a quantum vacuum, which is something); but, out of nothing, nothing comes. That is worse than magic. Or, one would have to argue that the universe has eternally existed. But the Borde,Guth, Vilenkin theorem militates against that, and logically there cannot be an infinite series of past events or actual physical things. Mathematician, David Hilbert, has also demonstrated this. The Borde, Guth, Vilenkin theorem applies to the multiverse as well (if it exists)

      In contrast, god, by definition, did NOT begin to exist so the theorem does not preclude his eternal existence. One can argue that that is simply defining away the problem – and so it may be – but if true, it avoids the contradiction with a rational explanation (even if we cannot really understand infinite existence).

  13. Brown Miller says:

    All the thoughtful discussions in the world will not bridge the gap between the deterioration of religion – as it is presently practiced, and the world of objective science.  Not, that is, until the shared core of every traditional religion is understood as primarily dealing with “psychological” transformation.  Whether we study the transcendent Way of Jesus, the pure altruism of the Kabbala, the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, the personal jihad of Mohammad, or Hinduisms ancient call to Unity with Reality,  the perfection of the human psyche is the goal, the “perrenial philosophy” at their core.  BUT, human perfection for a very particular and profound purpose which we are no longer capable of discussing.  Metaphysics has long been out-of-favor in terms of serious philosophical inquiry, and psychology is still in its infancy, so the implications and consequences of overcoming the human ego – with all of its illusions and capacity for misperception, is still beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.  The primitive state of the human sciences may be impressive as we still stand in awe of the physical Universe, but this is not the rational “default” value of theology, which is espoused by many preeminent scientists and theologians…. as though we need a new view of religion as a way to shift into altered states of consciousness, but in a more rarefied version than the hysteria of religious conversion found in many modern religious sects/cults.  Elevating religion as only a return to awe is missing the point and the intention of those spiritual adepts who saw into the nature of Reality and returned to teach.. that human suffering is not a “life-term.”  We have enough awe in cosmology and quantum physics already.  The core of every spiritual tradition is personal transformation, because of the nature of the relationship between “Being and Reality,” i.e. between our internal perception and our external experience of the field of reality.  When psychology, philosophy and theology finally evolve to a point of dialog and synthesis, the argument between science and religion will cease.

    • gandolfication says:

      Brown Miller, et al.,

      Is science Objective, superior to philosophy (even religion) in explainign reality?
      Brown Miller – you’ve called science ‘objective’.  What is meant by that?
      In my earlier post, (agreeing with the author here and pehaps going further), I tried to articulate the view that philosophy, or metaphysics if you like, is the foundation for science and not the reverse.  I believe this would commit me to asserting the correlate that it is philosophy, and not science that is the more fundamental (reliable?) expression of reality.

      I asserted that we all must necessarily begin with a presupposition, or pre-committment, an a prori volitional ‘leap of faith’ for lack of a better term, else the nothing could be inteligible and we could not have this conversation.  This may be narrowly circular, but is nevertheless unavoidable. 

      Does anyone here think that:

      a) there is not (or cannot be) anything beyond the physical?


      b) that the use of logic and reason (perhaps even the scientific method itself) is the only valid way to examine the truth or falsity of any statement which claims to be factual? 

      c) if not, what other methods are valid?

      d) if so, how is the claim in b) itself justified?  That is to say, what basis–if not reason–do we have for trust or belief that the scientific method, induction, uniformity of nature, etc. have any meaning?

      • Brown Miller says:

        Gandolf,  my point in using the term, “objective,” is that this is the general view of scientists in the disparagement of theology as faith-based, god-worshiping nonsense.   This thread is falling into the same trap.  The metaphysics of philosophers, however, has yet to provide the grand unified theory of anything, but I would assert that the metaphysics of theology – across history and a myriad of cultures has accomplished this over and over and over.  This despite the lack of a psychological language with which to explain the factual proof of “spiritual” insights.  Michael Cecil response is exactly the problem and solution to this six thousand year old dilemma.  But, it will be the basic scientific method – equally valid and applicable to metaphysics as to quantum physics, (which will ultimately bridge the gap) but the former has been dismissed as “hogwash” by most scientists who are stuck – as many are on this discussion thread, obsessed with still defending the term God as some kind of all-powerful, personified deity.  I am equally appalled by the FT/AP being brought up for discussion as a defense of the term.  Being a Christian scientist, Muslim scientist or whatever, IS the problem, if you imagine that what you are reading in your sacred texts is about the awe of dissecting a scorpion or gazing up at the cosmos.  I am flabbergasted at the ignorance, and as usual “throw in the towel.”

  14. dargang1 says:

    A while ago a relative of mine started promoting the virtues of an alternative health product which claimed to cure everything from arthritis to cancer. She had just endured a life threatening illness and an extended hospital stay where doctors and nurses inflicted a range of unpleasant but necessary treatments on her person. Understandably she would see drinking a syrupy sweet natural concoction as a pleasant but probably ineffective alternative.

    Out of curiosity and more than mild annoyance at the hyperbolic claims of snake oil salesmen I checked the claims of the publicity brochure accompanying the product. The first thing I discovered was that most of the fancy logos certified the product as meeting questionable standards developed by the alternative health industry to give their largely untested product an air of legitimacy. On checking the references supplied they were all from “wellness” style magazines written by the people who were pushing the product. Naturally none of them were in any way critical of the product. Many of these articles also gave figures published on the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s web site. A quick check of this website revealed that the figures were no longer published because they were being used to promote products which had no proven health benefits.  After a bit more digging I found a paper in a real peer reviewed medical journal reporting on the gold standard for testing the effectiveness of a claim. A product similar to the one in question was subjected to a double blind study where it was tested against a placebo. The killer conclusion to the paper was that the study had to be abandoned after the test subjects receiving the product developed a higher incidence of a particular cancer than the subjects receiving the placebo. Since one of the claims for the product was that it protects the user by inhibiting the death of cells this is not surprising. Cancer actually grows because cancer cells do not die when they should.

    My relative went back to the pushers of the product and presented the evidence. Their response was that I know nothing because I am “only a scientist.” What really annoyed me though was that these people follow a particular religion and are also making religious claims that the product is a cure provided by God to convince their co-religionists to buy it.

    Nidhal is right scientists have to take religion seriously because its followers take it seriously. Religion cannot be reduced to a simplistic cartoon. Religion is far more rich and diverse than that. Mind you as illustrated above some religious people are guilty of the same offence against science.

    Nidhal asks if religion and science should be considered as non-overlapping  magisteria, (NOMA) as suggested by Stephen Jay Gould. From my point of view as a scientist that is the way I work. I deal with natural explanations and do not try to squeeze God into the gaps in my understanding. That only diminishes God. Religion is important to me but I travelled an unusual path to belief.  

    At about 3 to 4 years old a child typically starts to annoy their parents and everyone around them by asking a lot of questions, usually prefaced with the word “why?” I never stopped questioning and I suppose that is one reason why I love science. It is a never-ending quest for answers.  I could not find those answers in Sunday School Christianity and left my church in my pre-teen years. A brief flirtation with my school’s Christian fellowship group yielded no fruit and an encounter with Christian Creationist absurdity only consolidated my growing atheism. Meanwhile science was still giving me answers.

    My “Damascene moment”, (or should it be Eureka moment?) came when I finally made it to university as a very mature aged student. I was up to my jeweller’s forceps in the entrails of a female scorpion when I remarked to myself how marvellous it was that evolution could lead to these intricate structures.  At this point I realised science was giving me answers to “how” questions and not to the big “why” question that I asked as a child.

    Nidhal asks whether “wonder and awe” will replace “religion and spirituality”. He refers to the awe and wonder experienced by spiritual atheists. I am reminded of a palaeontologist who described the emergence of a new fossil and all its attendant insights from his acid vats as like a “religious experience” At the same time he battled the vandalism of campus creationists who censored science textbooks in the university library by gluing together or cutting out pages they found offensive.

    It is that awe and wonder I experienced at the vision of the scorpion’s entrails and I still experience at the sight of a magnificently preserved or unusual fossil that set me on the path to discover Islam. It was a long, bumpy and at times difficult journey but it gives me an answer to the great teleological questions I had long asked. At the same time Islam commands me to look into the natural world and seek understanding of how it functions. I now share his problem of trying to convince Muslims to take science seriously.

    Science cannot and does not deliver core values. Like it or not these have derived in some way from religion. Science can, however analyse these and offer theories as to how these values came to be and why they still exist.

    There was a time when scientists were also theologians. Today that is a rarity. The separation of science and theology has enabled science to make enormous strides in advancing knowledge and understanding. At the same time religions have developed sophisticated and advanced theologies.

    This drifting apart of magisteria has consequences including the ones I opened this response with. There needs to be a meeting of magisterial minds to resolve misunderstanding and conflict. The Science/Religion war is a metaphor past its use by date as clearly expressed by E. O. Wilson in his book “The Creation”. This metaphor places religion in one trench and science in the other with a “No Man’s Land in between. It is time for both sides to leave the trenches and turn the wasteland in between into a fruitful garden.

  15. Bob McGovern says:

    No scientist can verify all the experiments that contribute to a scientific belief system.  They have learned to trust one another to varying degrees.  No religious authority is able to verify all the experiences and events that contribute to their belief system.  Much of world history was driven by disputes between religious authorities and those disputes continue into our current events.  Both scientists and religious authorities have been driven by politicians to create the most horrific events in human history.

    We’re being schooled by media managers to reject  people and laws that have undesirable imperfections.  Where imperfections are desirable, where taught to live with them.  The idea that imperfections can be fixed, without discarding the person or law, isn’t open for discussion.   That idea has compatibility issues with the media message. 

    The ability to learn about how to do what is right is opposed by the more powerful psychological imperative of condemning what can be portrayed as wrong.  Both religion and science improve our understanding of what drives people.  The media managers apply that understanding to drive people to be something other than scientists or religious people.

    If the law of gravity works for you, then obey it.  Don’t fuss with the value of the gravitational constant.  Don’t allow strange gods to be put before you and if God looks strange to you, then find a perspective where you can see more clearly.  Both science and religion fit together, when they agree to honor God by doing the best for all of His creation.

  16. prince195 says:

    To make my previous post more clear. The key word in Prof Guessoum’s post is “care”.  Scientists should care about religion as they should about art, literature, economy, politics and so on. The opposite is of course true. The result of “care” is that scientists, artists, economists or religious become better “humans”.

    But this is too obvious to be what prof Guessoum meant. I think that the hidden message is that religiousness makes a scientist a better scientist, not only a better man.  If this is Prof Guessoum’s real thought, I have to assume that in his opinion science and religion may have some principles, methods or goals in common. Then, as a reviewer, how would he judge a funded research program on the scientific demonstration of the existence of God (any), or on the plausibility of the Intelligent Design?

  17. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    @RandNotAyn, the Templeton Foundation does indeed fund studies aiming at discovering “spiritual realities,” including the effects of love, altruism, and other psycho-behavioral human attitudes. It is part of its “big questions” program. But it has to be done with a rigorous methodology. So it is difficult to tackle concepts like “karma”…

    @Prince195, yes, the premises, discussion, and conclusions of the essay would have been to some extent different if the question was “why should scientists care about art?” The reason for that, IMHO, is that art is not on the same level of human attachment and identity as faith or religion, and it does not have any claimed intention to direct human life (this one or the next one, for the believer)… Art is much less impactful and thus much less polarizing…

    @Gandolfication, logic can as easily (if not more) be located in mathematics, in which case “science” would fall under math, not philosophy. As to those additional questions that science can’t answer, yes but those may (or may not) be addressed by philosophy, and they are not necessarily addressed by religion (just looking at things both way)… As to laws of logic, are they human-made or are they pre-existing and independent of us? (Is mathematics/logic platonic?)

    @Harry, the fine-tuning/anthropic-principle has sometimes been used as an argument for the existence of God, a blueprint, and a purpose for the universe, but there’s also the multiverse argument and other views on the matter. Most thinkers don’t see FT/AP as a clear pointer to God. I think it’s one of those issues that one is free to adopt a theistic or atheistic stand about, but it’s not a definite argument one way or the other…

    • harry says:

      @Nidhal Guessoum,

      Thanks for your response.

      “Most thinkers don’t see FT/AP as a clear pointer to God.”

      Then they haven’t thought enough. ;o)

      Hitting the jackpot with a 1 in 10^10^123 chance of the Universe being fine-tuned such that life was a possibility was only the beginning of our “luck.”

      All the substances of which computers are comprised occur naturally. That makes computers a possibility, but does not make it likely one will come about mindlessly and accidentally. So it is with life. Just *how unlikely* was it that life could come about mindlessly and accidentally?

      It is so unlikely, that to get just how unlikely it was in perspective, we need an estimate of the number of possible events since the Universe began. French mathematician Emil Borel set that figure 10^50. University of Pittsburgh physicist Bret Van de Sande estimated it at 2.6 * 10^92. MIT computer scientist Seth Lloyd set the number at 10^120. Using a much more generous estimate based on the number of seconds since the Big Bang (roughly 10^16), the number of elementary particles in the observable Universe (10^80), and the number of physical state transitions possible per second (10^43), a figure of 10^139 is arrived at as the maximum number of events that could have occurred since the Universe began. Let’s apply that generous number to the difficulty of arriving at life mindlessly and accidentally.

      There are twenty amino acids in the biological, protein building “alphabet.” A small functional protein would be 150 amino acids in length (the average is more like 350 amino acids in length). So there are 20^150 (or 10^195) different sequences possible in a 150 amino acid protein, most of which are non-functional.

      MIT biochemist Robert Sauer has estimated that the ratio of functional sequences of amino acids to non-functional sequences is 1 in 10^63. We have a roughly 1 in 2 chance of getting the necessary peptide bonding between two amino acids, which, for 150 amino acids would be about 1 in 2^150 (or 1 in 10^45). We have the same odds of getting the necessary left handed amino acids.

      So we have a 1 in 10^45+45+63, or 1 in 10^153 chance of accidentally assembling just one small functional protein from our prebiotic soup assuming its ingredients and the environment are conducive to that happening at all. And that protein accidentally forming really means nothing without a context in which it is functional. Even so, assuming a functioning, minimally complex cell consisting of only 250 functional proteins is even feasible, such a cell would require at least 250 small, 150 amino acid proteins; to assemble all of them we would have to accidentally accomplish that which has a 1 in 10^153 chance of happening 250 times, which gives us a 1 in 10^38,250 chance of accidentally assembling the number of functional proteins that would be required by our very simple cell. Long before we could ever get our 250 proteins accidentally assembled we would have used up in unsuccessful attempts our (generous) 10^139 possible events the entire Universe could have generated since it began. (All we really had to work with were the events that could have taken place on planet Earth, a tiny speck in the vast Universe.)

      … there’s also the multiverse argument …”

      One must take belief in a multiverse on faith alone since scientific observation is restricted to *this* Universe. It takes much more faith to believe in a virtually infinite number of unobserved universes than it does to believe in one unobserved God. I suspect belief in the former springs from reluctance to believe in the latter. Belief in the latter has always been entirely reasonable.

      The discoveries of modern science have made it simply irrational, I think, to just assume that the Universe and the life within it are the result of a mindless combination of chance and the laws of physics. Theism is rational. Utterly materialistic scientism is not.

    • gandolfication says:

      @Nidhal Guessoum,
      Thanks for the reply Dr. Guessoum.

      You’re right, logic can surely be located under mathematics, and therefore yes, ‘science’ can be categorized as a subset of math (even though I think that provokes some instinctual resistance to the notion that EVERY form and expression of the scientific world is reducible purely to math).

      My claim is not that ‘religion’ (especially as you have fairly defined it) better answers the big questions–or even that it must necessarily address them at all.  Certainly not by itself.  Rather, I am asserting that yes, laws of logic and reason (and math, and even science) are real.  They actually exist as non-material things.  (I am okay with ‘Platonic’ entities although I think it could divert from the meaning).  These invisible, universal, invariant and immaterial entities exist in reality even if no human mind ever existed to comprehend them (one way to think of this is that A is A, 1+1 = 2, and gravity will prevail on an infant, an animal and a stone despite that none of these can understand them in the slightest). 

      As to whether any of the disciplines (as we currently categorize and conceive of them) have an edge in better describing the totality of ultimate reality, I have no dog in that fight (other than my beleif that their is no contradiction).

      My contention is that from a purely materialist worldview, one cannot have any reason and in fact cannot prove anything.  As soon as they make a claim that has any meaning at all, they have destroyed the nature of the purely material.

      If logic and reason are ultimately either just materialistic entities–or are not real, but mere social conventions of the human mind–then, of course we could stop any debate or discussion and just decide to define a new set of laws and ask for a show of hands for all who want the convention that says, for example, ‘naturalism must be true, or theism must be true, and we now have the following set of laws that we conventionally adopt to prove it’ (citing Bahnsen here) and see who’d be satisfied.’  http://www.bellevuechristian.org/faculty/dribera/htdocs/PDFs/Apol_Bahnsen_Stein_Debate_Transcript.pdf

      Once someone asserts that laws of logic and reason are not real things with objective meaning, I may then legitimately respond (and win!) like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky by saying, ‘brillig slithy toves’ for it would have the same force.

      But no, “The laws of logic can not be avoided, the laws of logic can not be accounted for in a Materialist universe.  Therefore, the laws of logic are one of the many evidences that without God you can’t prove anything at all.”  Id. 

  18. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    @dargang1, there are indeed many examples of people who use religion in an anti-scientific, against-evidence approach, and we all need to work hard to bring humanity out of such abhorable understandings of “religion”. And science shouldn’t care about such “religion” just because many people adopt that kind of belief or behavior; should scientists care about astrology just because millions and millions of people believe in it?

    I will address NOMA later, but when you say (and I strongly agree) that science cannot deliver core values, that must include ethics, and then we find ourselves bridging to science, since its praxis must involve ethics!

    Your sentence “There needs to be a meeting of magisterial minds to resolve misunderstanding and conflict” is a great concluding thought!

    @Bob McGovern, it is true that “No scientist can verify all the experiments that contribute to a scientific belief system.” But science is not about each of us reaching “established knowledge;” it is about a worldwide general human process whereby we collectively establish knowledge by repeating observations, experiments, measurements, calculations, etc. No similar process exists in religion, and no “established knowledge” can be defined therein. And indeed, religion should not be thus; it is based on faith, but one that must be in harmony with the rest of human cognition and general existence…

    Your sentence “Both religion and science improve our understanding of what drives people” is a great concluding thought!

  19. Michael Cecil says:

    I would suggest that any purported ‘unification’ of science and religion must occur at a dimension of consciousness beyond the consciousness that gives rise to science and religion in the first place; that is, the dualistic consciousness of the “self” and the ‘thinker’.

    In the Eastern philosophy/religions and traditions, this is referred to as the non-dualistic “observing” or “objective” consciousness, as opposed to the dualistic consciousness of illusion and maya. (See, also, for example, the writings of J. Krishnamurti.)

    In the monotheistic Revelations–but not religions–it is referred to as the consciousness Created ‘by and in the image of God’ as opposed to the ‘fallen’ consciousness (of the “self” and the ‘thinker’).

    • Brown Miller says:

      Thanks for interjecting this fundamental and critical point which I did not include in my response to this thread.  This point is impossible to discuss with scientists – even though achieving this state of conscious “Self/Awareness” (transcending the self/ego) is what has made possible most of the breakthroughs in every field of human creativity – including science.  Without at least a temporary shift out of the “thinker/doer” mode – i.e. entering “the zone,” breakthroughs are impossible.  But, the primitive state of psychology as a science, makes bridging the gap nearly impossible and every time religion vs. science is discussed, this is what we get.  Either humanity needs another few hundred years or an extraordinary paradigm shift to overcome this ignorant stalemate.  Thanks for you contribution…

  20. nodoubt1 says:

    Nidhal. Thanks for responding.

    Of course the universe appears very real indeed – to the mind that has evolved out of it. Nevertheless, I believe there has to be an absolutely contrary standpoint (Kingdom of Heaven, if you will)  in order for religion to have anything substantive to say.

    You really can’t expect scientists to care about religion without offerering a credible explanation of how “God” can exist without being objectively verifiable. And from the standpoint of the 21st century, God or spirit has to be totally unlike the material universe, its exact antipode, in order to be both real yet at the same time not measureable (which it obviously is not) . There can be an apparent tangency between them, such as between a straight line and a circle, but they must remain unlike at all points. If there is any overlap it has to show up tangibly somewhere. Hence the need for a contrary standpoint. The sunset appears real if you are standing on the earth, but not so real if you are standing on the sun. 

    Also, if God is claimed to be “all-powerful”, that is a mathematical concept. “Truth” is “all-powerful” in a mathematical context because we only accept as true or real that which is in accord with mathematical principle. So, in religion as in mathematics we can only except as true or real that which is in accord with God. Whatever appears as opposite to God, or Truth, has to be seen as untrue or unreal. Further, all finite matter has to cancel out. As in the case of mathematics we can only be dealing with images in mind.

    To me these are the basic preconditions in order for religion to have anything significant to talk about with a 21st century scientist. 

  21. prince195 says:

    @harry august 22

    You say: “The discoveries of modern science have made it simply irrational, I think, to just assume that the Universe and the life within it are the result of a mindless combination of chance and the laws of physics. Theism is rational. Utterly materiarisltic scientism is not”

    Your conclusion is based on a mere statistical estimate of chances of how (un)likely was it that life could occur accidentally by calculating  the number of possible events since the Universe began.

    If I follow you on statistics, and I assume the existence of a very large number of earth-like planets such to balance the number of improbable steps necessary for evolution, I may come to the conclusion that chances are much higher. This is not faith (as you say) in a virtually infinite number of unobserved universes, it is just an example of quantum finalism: when the game (the one you play) is ruled by probabilistic laws, the abundance of attempts is the best strategy to follow.

  22. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    @harry, I too am impressed with the fine-tuning/anthropic-principle argument; I have a chapter devoted to it in my book. However, to me it is clearly not a rigorous proof, a discussion-ender, for after all, if you have zillions of universes in an infinite multiverse, then any possibility will occur, no matter how “improbable” (and in an infinite setting, this becomes quite meaningless)l also, there may be future considerations (e.g. relations found between some cosmic parameters) that will lower those huge numbers you quote. More importantly, in my view, religion is based on faith, otherwise it becomes a derivation from mathematics or physical science, and faith requires some intangible element (a “leap”), otherwise anyone with enough brains *must* become a believer, having followed and been convinced by the “derivation”…

    And the multiverse hypothesis, of which I am not very fond, does not yet have testable predictions, but that doesn’t make it a “belief”; it is just not developed enough to be more strongly viable a scientific idea. But let’s not build on its weaknesses, as we’ve seen such theories in the past gain strength from one discovery or another and quickly become the accepted explanation and the reigning paradigm.

    @Michael Cecil, I didn’t talk about any “unification” of science and religion; I only said that religious scientists often explain that the two give them a *unified worldview*, i.e. a complete philosophy of the world, life, and existence that reconciles their science with their beliefs. OK, maybe you can describe it as some kind of unification of the two… Now, at what level or dimension of “consciousness” that is achievable is a different question that was not part of my line of argument.

    @nodoubt1, thanks for your reply; when we discuss matter, time, and the universe, it seems obvious to me that we’re considering everything from within this universe; the comment about what’s “real” was explicitly addressing matter, time, and the universe. Now God, absolutely is an “entity” of a completely different order; we certainly agree on that. “How ‘God’ can exist without being objectively verifiable” is only a valid question if one is trying to convince scientists to *believe* in ‘God’. But that was not the point of my essay; the question I was addressing is why scientists should *care* about ‘religion’, and my point was: even though many will not believe in ‘religion’ (in its various definitions), they should *care* about it for the reasons I outlined.

    • harry says:

      @Nidhal Guessoum

      Thanks again for your response.

      … if you have zillions of universes in an infinite multiverse, then any possibility will occur, no matter how ‘improbable’ …”

      Exactly. And just what was the impetus for multiverse theory being developed? There is no observable evidence of the existence of other universes (and there can’t be), so the impetus for it wasn’t to further explain such evidence. What *was* the impetus?

      Could it be that it was developed to bestow plausibility on the notion that the actual instantiation of phenomena the mindless, accidental appearance of which was not just extremely “improbable,” but was a virtual impossibility, actually *did* occur mindlessly and accidentally? If so, such motivation does not spring from the mission of true science, which is to seek the truth about nature with relentless objectivity and neutrality for the benefit of humanity.

      The hard evidence we *do* have, considered objectively, strongly suggests that the fine-tuning of the Universe that made life a possibility, and then the actual rise of life, required the intervention of an *extremely* intelligent agent. It does so which such force that there is simply no scientific basis for just assuming that is not the case. There can only be a philosophical basis for doing that, which is fine, as long as one does not pretend such an assumption is the product true science, or attempt to convince others of that. Doing that undermines the credibility of science. After all, it is becoming common knowledge that life, even in the case of a single-celled, reproducing life form, consists of extremely sophisticated nanotechnology the functional complexity of which is light years beyond our own – nanotechnology which is assembled according to massive quantities of extraordinarily precise digital information residing in the DNA molecule. It is not like there is a plethora of examples of immense quantities of functional, precise, digital information having come about mindlessly and accidentally. There are none at all. Ordinary people know that.

      “ … religion is based on faith …”

      Yes indeed. That can be a reasonable faith or an irrational, blind faith. Theism is based on an extremely reasonable faith, more so now than ever before. We see that huge quantities of extremely precise, functional, digital information are only brought about via an intellect. We see that technology only comes about via an intellect, which is why we can distinguish intelligently designed phenomena from naturally occurring ones. We wouldn’t mistake an extraterrestrial drone for a very strange asteroid.

      We have now discovered that life is nanotechnology light years beyond our own, nanotechnology that is based upon huge quantities of extremely precise, functional, digital information. It is only reasonable to conclude that life was intelligently designed. There is no scientific test that “proves” that, but neither is there one to prove that extraterrestrial drone is not just a naturally occurring, albeit extremely unique asteroid. A reasonable faith would inform us that the drone was intelligently designed, and informs us that the nanotechnology of life was intelligently designed. One is free to take on faith that the drone is merely a very unique asteroid and that life was a mindless accident, but that requires an irrational, blind faith based only on an extreme reluctance to accept the alternative.

    • gandolfication says:


      religion is based on faith, otherwise it becomes a derivation from mathematics or physical science, and faith requires some intangible element (a “leap”), otherwise anyone with enough brains *must* become a believer, having followed and been convinced by the “derivation”…

      That is a good point, and really well said, I think. It is also the truth that answers one of the most difficult metaphysical (and emotional) objections to belief in god as traditionally defined (a being consisting of maximally great making properties including omni-benevolence, (all loving) omniscience (all knowing) and omnipotence (ubiquitous – this one isn’t really addressed). Without some faith, the act of believing in god could not be said to be volitional – there would not be choice or free will involved. Love, as we understand it cannot mean the same thing without the freedom not to love and thus at least the potential to choose evil. And thus, while it may be a reasonable one and certainly rational faculties are involved, the belief that the seeming chaos could ultimately be reconciled and redeemed, comes to us–if at all–ultimately in critical part, through this mystery of faith. A choice. A leap. A pre-supposition.

      Re: “How ‘God’ can exist without being objectively verifiable” is only a valid question if one is trying to convince scientists to *believe* in ‘God’.

      I think even if one is trying to convince scientists to believe in (or accept evidence for?) God, it is STILL neither legitimate nor rational to try to subject god to objective verifiability if what is meant by that is susceptibility to falsification or other parts of the scientific method.

      This would negate the definition of what it means to be god, mainly super-natural. That would be trying to match the inquiry with the wrong type(s) of evidence.

      And although the tools of logic and reason–metaphysics–seem to me better suited to go further in this project, I think at some point the objection still arises that the inquiry is ultimately qualitatively of a different nature – perhaps like asking math to answer a question such as, ‘what is the meaning of life?’ (for an amusing take on exactly this problem, see the clip from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aboZctrHfK8)

      And I think this puts one back to the presuppositional leap in all its ineffable mystery.

  23. wondering14 says:

    Astrophysics and other physical sciences are different from the social “sciences”. We find self-help books and pop-psycho magazines galore, which readers believe when perhaps they should not. See, for example, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/16/barbara-fredrickson-s-bestselling-positivity-is-trashed-by-a-new-study.html The rigor of human “sciences” has at times seemed second best to the rigor of the best theological thinkers. Does science demand equality across the various “sciences”? Is there an overlap between, say, psychology and theology?

  24. wondering14 says:

    Women are often thought of as being more religious and more spiritual and men.  Might there be proportionately more women scientists who are believers than male scientists?

    Why are there so many atheists among scientists and professors?  Is it because of their intellectual bent or work or training or…?

    • mostafa says:

      According to “The New Collins International Dictionary:, atheist refrs to someone who rejects God/gods as the creator of the universe.  Probably, he accepts religion because of social complexicity whre he belongs to one of the prevailing religions. A man can become a religious person without accepting God/gods as a creator like Buddhists.

      In fact scientists are more close to the mystery of the uuniverse than the ordinary people and he continuously pressing him/her to answer to the question – “How could be that all these things of the universe just appear by thmeselves under sysnchronism with cause and effects?” He also knows that there is stil something beyond cause and effect but he lacks language of any kind whatsoever to communicate it. The scientist dien’t recognize the creator becasue it’s not so easy to do it.   

  25. mostafa says:

    From time immemorial, the world had been gradually populated by human beings and so was the increasing appearance of chaos in the form of injustice, exploitation and disasters. In order to help people living with beauty and harmony through the minimization of these chaotic factors, someone started peaching noble words. A way of living was being formed, which with the passage of time underwent many refinements. In the period from 600AD – 623AD, the Prophet of Islam added sophisticated features to this primitive life style and brought unimaginable prosperity and peace among the barbarious bedouins of the Arabian peninsula. This is the ‘dheen/religion’ of Islam that was guiding everyday happenings of the Islamic people. There were (and they are still) many religions viz., Hinduism, Confusicus, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam of course.

    At present times, the states are being governed by democratic/socialistic/autocratic systems and taking care of the everyday happenings of the lives of the citizens as far as their security, food supplies, healthcare, education, disaster management and etc. are concerned. The religions that we have seen above are not much involved in the state policies except few countries. But the religions are there and they will continue to sustain as long as science remains unable to quantify ‘amount of hope being conveyd by inspiring statements’.

    A man is a full time (round the clock) human being and a philosopher in contrast to a scientist who is a professional for the assigned period of office/laboratory time and/or project time. There is a semi-permanent change within the life style and profile of the scientist as long as s/he remains involved with the project. At the end of the project or the office time, the scientist is completely relieved of the scientific activities (assuming that he is not a philosopher). On the other hand, a philosopher is engaged in thinking over all affairs of life and the universe and try to visualize the causes and effects of the phenomena. 

    Family members (some or all) of a religion had been practicing through generations to genrations the traditions of their religion regadless his profession as a scientist or as a philosopher. A great thinker has said that the noble words of the Scriptures gradually unfold to the religious-philosophers provided they have learned from themselves the techniques of raising controlled ‘doubts’. Religion can still provide and providing ways that should be strictly exercised to avert damage to civilization (I don’t say humanity) by the attempt of testing the effectiveness of the tools that the scientists have developed!!!!! According to Einstein – “Science does not teach me how to behave with others”.

    Does humanity refer to taking a wounded person sitting at the road side to the hospital? Does it refer to putting large scale socio-political organized efforts to establish justice or to uniformly distribute the available opportunities among the citizens? Science or scientist has no answer to this question. A seasoned person can answer to this question, who is blessed by the ‘highly respectable and beneficial ideas of the religion’.


  26. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    @wondering14, those are very good points and questions you raise; thanks. Yes, an astrophysicist like me, albeit interested in and respectful of the humanities and social sciences, unconsciously has natural scientists in mind when he/she talks about “scientists”. But you are right, those are not the only scientists in town, and there are indeed some substantial differences between the social scientists (and their modus operandi) and the natural scientists (and their celebrated “method”)… So a discussion of how religion and science might relate to one another needs to take those differences into account. It gets even more complicated then…

    Now on whether women scientists are more religious than their male colleagues, again good question, and I don’t know of any data on this; perhaps some such information exists in the famous surveys of scientists and their religious (or non-religious) attitudes (Ecklund’s, Larson & Witham’s, etc.), but I am not sure. Assuming the data does show that women scientists are more religious than their male colleagues, I am not sure that it would imply anything, would it? Let me/us know your thoughts.

    Your last question, however, is the real issue: why indeed are scientists and academics much less religious than the general population (as much data shows)? In my humble opinion, it may be because lay people haven’t given those issues that much thought, and indeed the religiosity of scientists and academics often is much more sophisticated than that of lay people; or, conversely, maybe science and high studies have made most students lose touch with their inner selves, i.e. their potential for spirituality; furthermore, perhaps we’ve failed to help students and thinkers look at things holistically… There may also be another reason, IMHO: scientists get so used to requiring *evidence* for any claim (scientific or other) that they reject religion for its lack of supporting evidence, but then they’re asking the wrong question of religion… And last but not least, academics often take a quick look at traditional religions and dismiss them as primitive, depriving people of freedom, and either cruel or naïve (plus a host of other “ills”), so they reject the whole thing, mostly out of hand. That is why I emphasized the need for religions to evolve, get “updated”, and become more relevant and in-tune with the intellectual progress of humanity…

  27. TomMcLeish says:

    I greatly enjoyed Nidhal’s original essay and the subsequent comments.  As a physicist and also a lay Christian preacher I am catapulted into this discussion frequently, both from university and church angles!  He and the discussants have laudibly avoided either of the false “poles” of the argument – but I have come to see that the “geometry” with which we think about this question (“poles”, “opposite corners”, “overlapping areas”, etc) is not helping us – we dont realise that we assume it at the start of discussion too often.  The deep issue here is that, if we are honest, neither are science nor our religion will suffer to be limited in what it speaks about – both have the entire creation and all of history as their subjects.  Intriguingly this includes each other – so hence psychological/neuroscientific approaches to religious belief (I have no issue at all with that by the way).  But this also means that religion needs to speak “of” science.  If you like we talk too much about “religion and science” when we need to replace the “and” with an “of” – both religion and science badly need a “theology OF science”.  This includes, but is much more than, Guessom’s call for a religious approach to scientific ethics – it would inform us to what science is for – a theological aeteology of science.  The “wonder” that the discussion has picked up on is surely part of this, but mmore likley a signpost to much more, that within a linear theological history science plays is (very “religious”!) part in the illumination and healing of a dark and broken relationship between humankind and our physical world.  There are many places to look in the traditions of the Abrahamic faiths for material here, and also in Vedic texts, but my favourite starting source is the “Lord’s Answer” in the Book of Job.

    So my answer to discussion question 2 is a resounding “no” – both science and religion must be able to talk about everything, including each other.  But when we are faced with a religious calling to work with creation as servants of God then it is the methods of science that we need to call on.  The great news for the “new atheists” is that this makes science one of the most deeply religious activities we engage in…..

    I have tried to say more about this in a book to be published by OUP in May 2014 called “Faith and Wisdom in Science”.

  28. Nidhal Guessoum says:

    @mostafa, thank you for your thoughts, emphasizing the importance of religion for the philosopher, in contrast to the “professional” scientist. I am not sure I agree with the characterization of the scientist as a professional who leaves his/her science aside when he/she finishes work at the office or the lab. Science, in my view, is a way of thinking, not a job, and once it is fully acquired, it becomes a way of life. It is true, as you say, that a philosopher deals with all issues of life, whereas science is limited in its scope by its methodology, but what is your definition of a philosopher, the academic who is highly trained in that discipline, or any general thinker among the lay population?

    Religion is a general understanding of life (the why questions), while science is a method to try to explain how the world works; thus the two need to be meshed as seamlessly as possible so as to avoid the two-lives paradigm or, worse, the schizophrenia that exists among many (e.g. those who have religion from birth and get science from later training but can’t find a way to mesh them well, so the compartmentalize them)…

    @TomMcLeish, thank you very much for your thoughtful contribution; I appreciated the additional perspective you’ve added to the discussion (indeed, scientists in particular are trained to, semi-consciously, think in geometric terms).

    A science of religion already exists, and a “religion of science” is a very interesting idea, one that would include the awe and wonder aspect, and the ethics part that I raised in my essay, but much more, as you say. I certainly look forward to reading your upcoming book; it promises to add something significant to the S & R debates.