The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

almost every species that has ever existed is extinct; extinction is the rule, survival is the exception.

And all I’m saying is that it is within our capability to survive. I don’t guarantee it. Prophecy is a lost art. And I don’t know what the probabilities are that we will go one way or another. And no one says it’s easy. But it is clear, as Einstein said, that if we do not make a change in our way of thinking, all is lost.

And were the vision of Democritus to have been adopted by Western civilization, instead of being cast aside for the pale views of Plato and Aristotle, we would be vastly further ahead today, in

A new concept of god: “something not very different from the sum total of the physical laws of the universe; that is, gravitation plus quantum mechanics plus grand unified field theories plus a few other things equaled god. And by that all they meant was that here were a set of exquisitely powerful physical principles that seemed to explain a great deal that was otherwise inexplicable about the universe. Laws of nature…that apply not just locally, not just in Glasgow, but far beyond: Edinburgh, Moscow…Mars…the center of the Milky Way, and out by the most distant quarters known. That the same laws of physics apply everywhere is quite remarkable. Certainly that represents a power greater than any of us.

As science advances, there seems to be less and less for God to do. It's a big universe, of course, so He, She, or It, could be profitably employed in many places. But what has clearly been happening is that evolving before our eyes has been a God of the Gaps; that is, whatever it is we cannot explain lately is attributed to God. And then after a while, we explain it, and so that's no longer God's realm.

Certainly on this planet it is not apparent that there are beings more intelligent than humans, although a case can be made for dolphins and whales, and in fact if humans succeed in destroying themselves with nuclear weapons, a case can be made that ALL other animals are smarter than humans.

Does trying to understand the universe at all betray a lack of humility ? I believe it is true that humility is the only just response in a confrontation with the universe, but not a humility that prevents us from seeking the nature of the universe we are admiring. If we seek that nature, then love can be informed by truth instead of being based on ignorance and self-deception. If a Creator God exists, would He or She or It or whatever the appropriate pronoun is, prefer a kind of sodden blockhead who worships while understanding nothing ? Or would He prefer His votaries to admire the real universe in all its intricacy ? I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship. My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, then our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, then our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival in an extremely dangerous time. In either case the enterprise of knowledge is consistent surely with science; it should be with religion, and it is essential for the welfare of the human species.

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.

His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science’s permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed.

However, he never understood why anyone would want to separate science, which is just a way of searching for what is true, from what we hold sacred, which are those truths that inspire love and awe.

If there is as a continuum from self-reproducing molecules, such as DNA, to microbes, and an evolutionary sequence continuum from microbes to humans, why should we imagine that continuum to stop at humans?

If we are merely matter intricately assembled, is this really demeaning? If there's nothing here but atoms, does that make us less or does that make matter more?

If we are to discuss the idea of God and be restricted to rational arguments, then it is probably useful to know what we are talking about when we say “God.” This turns out not to be easy. The Romans called the Christians atheists. Why? Well, the Christians had a god of sorts, but it wasn’t a real god. They didn’t believe in the divinity of apotheosized emperors or Olympian gods. They had a peculiar, different kind of god. So it was very easy to call people who believed in a different kind of god atheists. And that general sense that an atheist is anybody who doesn’t believe exactly as I do prevails in our own time.

It goes with a courageous intent to greet the universe as it really is, not to foist our emotional predispositions on it but to courageously accept what our explorations tell us.

I think if we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.

I think the discomfort that some people feel in going to the monkey cages at the zoo is a warning sign.

I would suggest that science is, at least in my part, informed worship.

Many religions have attempted to make statues of their gods very large, and the idea, I suppose, is to make us feel small. But if that's their purpose, they can keep their paltry icons. We need only look up if we wish to feel small.

Many religions have attempted to make statues of their gods very large, and the idea, I suppose, is to make us feel small. But if that’s their purpose, they can keep their paltry icons. We need only look up if we wish to feel small.

No single step in the persuit of enlightenment should ever be considered sacred; only the search was.

Now, it would be wholly foolish to deny the existence of laws of nature. And if that is what we are talking about when we say God, then no one can possibly be an atheist, or at least anyone who would profess atheism would have to give a coherent argument about why the laws of nature are inapplicable. I think he or she would be hard-pressed. So with this latter definition of God, we all believe in God.

Science is only a Latin word for knowledge

So those who wished for some central cosmic purpose for us, or at least our world, or at least our solar system, or at least our galaxy, have been disappointed, progressively disappointed. The universe is not responsive to our ambitious expectations.

There are a vast number of stars within our galaxy. The number is not so large as the number of cometary nuclei around the Sun but is nevertheless hardly modest. It's about 400 billion stars, of which the Sun is one.

The word "religion" comes from the Latin for "binding together," to connect that which has been sundered apart. It's a very interesting concept. And in this sense of seeking the deepest interrelations among things that superficially appear to be sundered, the objectives of religion and science, I believe, are identical or very nearly so. But the question has to do with the reliability of the truths claimed by the two fields and the methods of approach.

We batter this planet as if we had someplace else to go.

we have a theology that is Earth-centered and involves a tiny piece of space, and when we step back, when we attain a broader cosmic perspective, some of it seems very small in scale. And in fact a general problem with much of Western theology in my view is that the God portrayed is too small. It is a god of a tiny world and not a god of a galaxy, much less of a universe.

We make our purpose.

When you look more generally at life on Earth, you find that it is all the same kind of life. There are not many different kinds; there's only one kind. It uses about fifty fundamental biological building blocks, organic molecules.