Archive for May, 2011

It’s irritating and disheartening to read again some debate which you thought had been concluded years ago.  But no, still they come: scientists proclaiming yet again that their researches have failed to turn up anything which could be identified as “God.”  After all, it was as long ago as August 1802 that when Napoleon asked Laplace where God fitted into the new cosmology, the great scientist replied, “I have no need of that hypothesis.”

In fact, as Karen Armstrong has shown, the revolutionary period 1780 – 1820 or so saw many thinkers approach this problem and come to much the same conclusion.  The “God” they thought they were looking for turned out to be, at best unverifiable; at worst, not there at all.

Now Professor Hawking has told the Guardian this week that he too has failed to confirm the existence of heaven.  He thinks it’s a fairy story.  Well, Professor, I think you’ve got something there, but before we all congratulate each other on this scientific exercise let’s pause for a moment to listen to the concluding part of Judge John Jones’ judgement in Kitzmiller v  Dover Area School District (2005) which barred the equal teaching of the belief in Intelligent Design (ID) in local science lessons:

“In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

Both Defendants and many of the leading proponents of ID make a bedrock assumption which is utterly false. Their presupposition is that evolutionary theory is antithetical to a belief in the existence of a supreme being and to religion in general. Repeatedly in this trial, Plaintiffs’ scientific experts testified that the theory of evolution represents good science, is overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, and that it in no way conflicts with, nor does it deny, the existence of a divine creator.”

Surely you know, Professor, as Judge Jones does, that we are dealing here with a category mistake.  Faith, as the judge seems to realise as you seem not to, is not science.  True faith in religion does not contend with science, it welcomes it.  But what we believe in is to be found in a different category of ‘truth’ or ‘reality’ than that which science knows and tests.

This is not a problem for us.  We who think of ourselves as are believers are perfectly prepared to accept this, just as we acknowledge the fact that for the past three or four thousand years, it has proved impossible to define “God” in any kind of scientific, logical way.  As Thomas Aquinas said, why should we believe in a deity that we could, with our human limitations, ever imagine?  Even using the attractive concept of the Brahman – the essence of existence; Being itself – only gets us so far, as Vedic belief readily admits.

I too readily concede what I have written here before, that I do not believe in a supernatural “God”, let alone a personal one.  Any “God” that I find I can refer to is more like an enormous work of art, or an expression of a shared commonality with values, or a dimension of our understanding or our will, or… I just give up.

In that context, that framework, that I am free to believe in, I am happy still to pray, to think of scripture as a certain kind of midrash and myself as an Anglican atheist (or perhaps a Christian Humanist), and also to respect science.  But if you want me to be shocked at your news, Pressor, that you have not found “Heaven” anywhere in the cosmos, and that this must make a lot of people seem to youo rather misguided, then you are not as bright as the world thinks you are.

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Here’s an intriguing thought: what would we feel if we were able to visit a perfect world – identical to ours, but perfect?  Would we come away happy?  Or disturbed?

My guess is that in the first hour or two of our visit we would be fascinated and envious.  Everything would look so good.  The gardens would be in full bloom with beautiful flowers and trees; the parks and streets filled with good-looking, apparently happy people. The buildings would seem well-crafted and cared for; the homes inviting; everything clean and neat; everyone well-dressed and healthy; no litter, or signs of damage or decay… (more…)

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