Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Hooked by the title, I eagerly skimmed the opening paragraphs of this January 4 article from the science section of the New York Times:

God (or Not), Physics and, of Course, Love: Scientists
Take a Leap


"What do you believe is true even though you cannot
prove it?"

This was the question posed to scientists, futurists and
other creative thinkers by John Brockman, a literary
agent and publisher of Edge, a Web site devoted to
science. The site asks a new question at the end of each
year.

Anyone who believes scientists deal only in facts and never faith should read the Times article, which quotes several replies to the question. Some of the respondents believe in God, others don't. The salient point is that most are scientists, and all of them admit, sometimes proudly, sometimes sheepishly, to taking something purely on faith. Most of us don't expect that sort of thing from scientists.

Here are two of the responses, as quoted in the Times:

Richard Dawkins
Evolutionary biologist, Oxford University;
author, "The Ancestor's Tale"

I believe, but I cannot prove, that all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all "design" anywhere in the universe, is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection. It follows that design comes late in the universe, after a period of Darwinian evolution. Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

David Myers
Psychologist, Hope College;
author, "Intuition"

As a Christian monotheist, I start with two unproven axioms:

1. There is a God.

2. It's not me (and it's also not you).

Together, these axioms imply my surest conviction: that some of my beliefs (and yours) contain error. We are, from dust to dust, finite and fallible. We have dignity but not deity.

And that is why I further believe that we should

a) hold all our unproven beliefs with a certain tentativeness (except for this one!),

b) assess others' ideas with open-minded skepticism, and

c) freely pursue truth aided by observation and experiment.


You might want to hop over to Edge, where 120 "third culture scientists and science-minded thinkers" have chimed in to answer the question,

"WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?"

Great minds can sometimes guess the truth before they
have either the evidence or arguments for it (Diderot
called it having the "esprit de divination"). What do you
believe is true even though you cannot prove it?

I studied science as a young woman, and I remember being profoundly surprised to learn how tenaciously scientists cling to their pet theories, even when evidence begins to pile up against them. There's no such thing as "pure" scientific thought. Nobody is absolutely unbiased because a scientist is ultimately a human being, and human brains appear to be hardwired to believe.

Novelist Douglas Adams kidded about that truth in his unforgetable Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Fans of the series (count me in that number) held their breath as the greatest computer the universe had ever known ("Deep Thought") was put to work on "the Ultimate Question--the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything."

In the Bible, the first chapter of Romans tells us that all men and women know in their hearts they were created by God. Many choose not to embrace that knowledge, and that's what "free will" is all about. But I have observed that people who don't believe in God seem quite desperate to believe in something else. Their hearts and minds cry out for answers, and since they have already discarded the correct answer -- God -- they scramble to fill the void in themselves with something they're willing to believe in.

Whether they acknowledge it or not, all human beings know in their hearts that they were created by God. I believe that is true because it makes perfect sense in light of what I have observed.

But, no -- I cannot prove it.


2 comments:

tristan coulter said...

you said:
"Whether they acknowledge or not, all human beings know in their hearts that they were created by God. I believe that is true because it makes perfect sense in light of what I have observed. But, no -- I cannot prove it."

Well put, I agree with you totally.

Anonymous said...

ditto what you said...I believe!

And it is such a joy to know that you and Tristan do too.