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Saturday, November 26, 2005                                                                                       View Comments

Do you believe in God?

Some leading thinkers have strong opinions about God, while others are reserving judgment

By Matt Donnelly

Science needs God. Or does it?

Together, the four contributors below — Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Michio Kaku and David Deutsch — are some of the most influential thinkers and writers on science. Dennett and Pinker are listed as numbers 24 and 26, respectively, on Prospect magazine’s recent list of the top one hundred public intellectuals in the world.

Some of the contributors are open about their atheism, while others are more agnostic. None profess to be theologians, but in their writings they all express a sense of wonder at the natural world. We offer their comments as a semi-representative snapshot of how those who influence our culture think about the relationship between science and religion.

No. There is no concept of God that strikes me as remotely worthy of belief.
— Daniel Dennett

I don’t believe in God, and I think the question is backwards. I don’t believe in Santa Claus either, and the burden of proof should be on those who do.

But if you must: (a) Since the 1600s, phenomena attributed to God have been increasingly explained by natural causes, and now that we are understanding the brain, the last phenomenon reserved for religion, namely the soul, will be explained as well. (b) Postulating God as an explanation for where of life and the universe came from, or how they work, explains nothing, since it just begs the question of where God came from, and how he works. (c) The existence of unnecessary evil, suffering, and tragedy disprove the existence of a beneficent deity. (d) Ethical precepts don’t require a god, as Plato showed more than 2000 years ago, because one has to ask why God chose the precepts he did. If he had no reason, why should we obey them; if he did have a reason, we can invoke those reasons directly.
— Steven Pinker

I don't believe in the supernatural. My principal negative reason is that there is an infinity of mutually inconsistent accounts of supernatural entities, between which reason cannot distinguish. Were I to accept the offer of one which, as it were, knocked at my door offering an underlying meaning in return for my agreeing to suspend my critical faculties, I should have no decent reply to the next one that knocked and asked “Why did you not choose me?”

My principal positive reason is that, for various reasons (about which I am writing a book, The Beginning of Infinity), I have come to the conclusion that the world is fundamentally comprehensible — but in a way that rules out the possibility that any ultimate explanation can be discovered. For the latter would necessarily be in terms of entities and attributes which themselves cannot be explained. I expect every true answer to create not closure, but a better question. To seek a final answer is to hope that everything beyond that is incomprehensible. And since that move is always available to shore up any false theory, it must be a mistake.
— David Deutsch

I tend to agree with Einstein, that we have to distinguish between two types of God.

First, there is the God of intervention, the God of prayer, the personal God. The second is the God of harmony and order. Einstein rejected the first, but believed in the second, calling God "the Old One," i.e., the lawgiver who set everything into motion. Today, we physicists face the same question. If one asks, Where did the big bang come from? we can say that it probably came from a unified field theory, such as string theory, my specialty. But then this begs the question: where did string theory come from?

This is embarrassing, since we have no answer. My own answer is that the unified field theory may be unique, i.e., the only mathematically self-consistent theory of the universe. Hundreds of attempts have been made, and all, except string theory, have been proven mathematically inconsistent.

So perhaps God did not have a choice in making the universe, as Einstein suspected. When Einstein set out to create this theory, he would ask himself a question: if I were God, how would I construct a universe? We theoretical physicists, in effect, try to emulate this. And it is much harder than you would suspect. I try this when I construct new theories. I find that the restrictions on a unified field theory are so stringent, so tight, that simple ideas fail immediately. Therefore, I suspect, as Einstein did, that the universe is mathematically unique. In other words, God is a geometer.
— Michio Kaku

Matt Donnelly is Web editor at Science & Theology News.