I will put my cards on the table. I am an atheist myself. I completely endorse the Central Doctrine of science. And I do not believe in the existence of a Being who lives beyond matter and energy, even if that Being refrains from entering the fray of the physical world. However, I certainly agree with Collins and Hutchinson and Gingerich that science is not the only avenue for arriving at knowledge, that there are interesting and vital questions beyond the reach of test tubes and equations. Obviously, vast territories of the arts concern inner experiences that cannot be analyzed by science. The humanities, such as history and philosophy, raise questions that do not have definite or unanimously accepted answers.
The Carina Nebula, from the Hubble Telescope
Finally, I believe there are things we take on faith, without physical proof and even sometimes without any methodology for proof. We cannot clearly show why the ending of a particular novel haunts us. We cannot prove under what conditions we would sacrifice our own life in order to save the life of our child. We cannot prove whether it is right or wrong to steal in order to feed our family, or even agree on a definition of “right” and “wrong.” We cannot prove the meaning of our life, or whether life has any meaning at all. For these questions, we can gather evidence and debate, but, in the end, we cannot arrive at any system of analysis akin to the way in which a physicist decides how many seconds it will take a one-foot-long pendulum to make a complete swing. These are questions for the arts and the humanities. These are also questions aligned with some of the intangible concerns of traditional religion.
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Questions That Science Cannot Answer
This is a very fine essay by physicist Alan Lightman of MIT about the relationship between science and religion. Though an atheist himself, he is more open to 'faith' and its expression, even in religion, than is someone like the evolutionary biologist and virulent atheist Richard Dawkins.