Even though their arguments did not invoke religion, I think we all know what's behind these arguments. They're trying to protect religious beliefs from contradiction by science. They used to do it by prohibiting teachers from teaching evolution at all; then they wanted to teach intelligent design as an alternative theory; now they want the supposed "weaknesses" in evolution pointed out. But it's all the same program - it's all an attempt to let religious ideas determine what is taught in science courses.
This is often the way it is in physics - our mistake is not that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them seriously enough. It is always hard to realize that these numbers and equations we play with at our desks have something to do with the real world. Even worse, there often seems to be a general agreement that certain phenomena are just not fit subjects for respectable theoretical and experimental effort.
If there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather.
If there is no point in the universe that we discover by the methods of science, there is a point that we can give the universe by the way we live, by loving each other, by discovering things about nature, by creating works of art. And that—in a way, although we are not the stars in a cosmic drama, if the only drama we're starring in is one that we are making up as we go along, it is not entirely ignoble that faced with this unloving, impersonal universe we make a little island of warmth and love and science... Read more »
I think enormous harm is done by religion - not just in the name of religion, but actually by religion. ... Many people do simply awful things out of sincere religious belief, not using religion as a cover the way that Saddam Hussein may have done, but really because they believe that this is what God wants them to do, going all the way back to Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac because God told him to do that. Putting God ahead of humanity is a terrible thing.
Its a consequence of the experience of science. As you learn more and more about the universe, you find you can understand more and more without any reference to supernatural intervention, so you lose interest in that possibility. Most scientists I know dont care enough about religion even to call themselves atheists. And that, I think, is one of the great things about science-that it has made it possible for people not to be religious.
Some people have views of God that are so broad and flexible that it is inevitable that they will find God wherever they look for him. One hears it said that 'God is the ultimate' or 'God is our better nature' or 'God is the universe.' Of course, like any other word, the word 'God' can be given any meaning we like. If you want to say that 'God is energy,' then you can find God in a lump of coal.
I'm offended by the kind of smarmy religiosity that's all around us, perhaps more in America than in Europe, and not really that harmful because it's not really that intense or even that serious, but just... you know after a while you get tired of hearing clergymen giving the invocation at various public celebrations and you feel, haven't we outgrown all this? Do we have to listen to this?
I can hope that this long sad story, this progression of priests and ministers and rabbis and ulamas and imams and bonzes and bodhisattvas, will come to an end. I hope this is something to which science can contribute ... it may be the most important contribution that we can make.
In trying to get votes for the Superconducting Super Collider, I was very much involved in lobbying members of Congress, testifying to them, bothering them, and I never heard any of them talk about postmodernism or social constructivism. You have to be very learned to be that wrong.
This doesn't mean that they commit themselves to the view that this is all there is. Many scientists (including me) think that this is the case, but other scientists are religious, and believe that what is observed in nature is at least in part a result of God's will.
You know, our fundamentalist friends dislike the teaching of evolution in schools because of the effect they feel it has on our view of our own special importance, while liberals insist that scientific and spiritual matters can be kept in separate compartments. On this point, I tend to agree with the fundamentalists, though I come to opposite conclusions about teaching evolution because I am convinced it's true.
Alas, Islam turned against science in the twelfth century. The most influential figure was the philosopher Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, who argued in The Incoherence of the Philosophers against the very idea of laws of nature, on the ground that any such laws would put God's hands in chains. According to al-Ghazzali, a piece of cotton placed in a flame does not darken and smoulder because of the heat, but because God wants it to darken and smoulder. After al-Ghazzali, there was no more science worth mentioning in Islamic countries.
How then did we come to the "standard model"? And how has it supplanted other theories, like the steady state model? It is a tribute to the essential objectivity of modern astrophysics that this consensus has been brought about, not by shifts in philosophical preference or by the influence of astrophysical mandarins, but by the pressure of empirical data.
I have a friend — or had a friend, now dead — Abdus Salam, a very devout Muslim, who was trying to bring science into the universities in the Gulf states and he told me that he had a terrible time because, although they were very receptive to technology, they felt that science would be a corrosive to religious belief, and they were worried about it… and damn it, I think they were right. It is corrosive of religious belief, and it’s a good thing too.
It was one time when people thought the value of the fine structure constant was important. Now of course it's still important, of course, as a practical matter,but we now know that the value it has is a function, that in any fundamental theory you derive the fine structure constant as a function of all sorts of mass ratios and so on and it's not really that fundamental.
The fact that Newton and Michael Faraday and other scientists of the past were deeply religious shows that religious skepticism is not a prejudice that governed science from the beginning, but a lesson that has been learned through centuries of experience in the study of nature.
I now want to tell three stories about advances in twentieth-century physics. A curious fact emerges in these tales: time and again physicists have been guided by their sense of beauty not only in developing new theories but even in judging the validity of physical theories once they are developed. Simplicity is part of what I mean by beauty, but it is a simplicity of ideas, not simplicity of a mechanical sort that can be measured by counting equations or symbols.
It is almost irrestible for humans to believe that we have some special relation to the universe, that human life is not just a more-or-less farcical outcome of a chain of accidents reaching back to the first three minutes, but that we were somehow built in from the beginning.
How strange it would be if the final theory were to be discovered in our lifetimes! The discovery of the final laws of nature will mark a discontinuity in human intellectual history, the sharpest that has occurred since the beginning of modern science in the seventeenth century. Can we now imagine what that would be like?