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Some Thoughts on Science and Faith

Some Thoughts on Science and Faith November 7, 2021

 

Princeton's Nassau Hall, in the evening
Nassau Hall, on the campus of Princeton University, where Edward Nelson specialized in mathematical physics and mathematical logic. The world’s best Philly cheesesteak can be found just across the street.  Trust me on this.  (Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

 

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I feel like sharing some quotations that I’ve previously gathered from believing scientists/mathematicians:

 

“While . . . media attention goes to the strident atheists who claim religion is foolish superstition, and to the equally clamorous religious creationists who deny the clear evidence for cosmic and biological evolution, a majority of the people I know have no difficulty accepting scientific knowledge and holding to religious faith.”

“Why do I believe in God? As a physicist, I look at nature from a particular perspective. I see an orderly, beautiful universe in which nearly all physical phenomena can be understood from a few simple mathematical equations. I see a universe that, had it been constructed slightly differently, would never have given birth to stars and planets, let alone bacteria and people. And there is no good scientific reason for why the universe should not have been different.”

“Many good scientists have concluded from these observations that an intelligent God must have chosen to create the universe with such beautiful, simple, and life-giving properties. Many other equally good scientists are nevertheless atheists. Both conclusions are positions of faith. . . .  I find these arguments suggestive and supportive of belief in God, but not conclusive. I believe in God because I can feel God’s presence in my life, because I can see the evidence of God’s goodness in the world, because I believe in Love and because I believe that God is Love.”

William D. Phillips (1997 Nobel Laureate in physics)

 

I rejoice that the sacred scriptures of our faith portray a God who listens to prayer, who loves us and longs to lead us.  I rejoice that my chosen line of work, mathematics, has enabled me to bring into being new things that did not exist before, and to greet with wonder and awe many amazing inventions of my fellow workers.  I rejoice that daily we live immersed in infinity, that we have the freedom not only to make choices but at times to be the agent, by will or by grace, to sing to the Lord a new song.

Edward Nelson (1932-2012), Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University

 

“I strongly believe in the existence of God, based on intuition, observations, logic, and also scientific knowledge.

“Science, with its experiments and logic, tries to understand the order or structure of the universe. Religion, with its theological inspiration and reflection, tries to understand the purpose or meaning of the universe. These two are cross-related. Purpose implies structure, and structure ought to be interpretable in terms of purpose. At least this is the way I see it. I am a physicist. I also consider myself a Christian. As I try to understand the nature of our universe in these two modes of thinking, I see many commonalities and crossovers between science and religion. It seems logical that in the long run the two will even converge.

“Science wants to know the mechanism of the universe, religion–the meaning. The two cannot be separated.

“We scientists work on the basis of a fundamental assumption regarding reason in nature and reason in the human mind, an assumption that is held as a cardinal principle of faith. Yet this faith is so automatically and generally accepted that we hardly recognize it as an essential basis of science.

“As a religious person, I strongly sense the presence and actions of a creative Being far beyond myself and yet always personal and close by.

“In fact, it seems to me, a revelation can be viewed as a sudden discovery of understanding of man and man’s relation to his universe, to God, and his relation to other men.”

Charles Townes (1915-2015), 1964 Nobel laureate in physics

 

“Nevertheless, just as I believe that the Book of Scripture illumines the pathway to God, so I believe that the Book of Nature, with its astonishing details-the blade of grass, the Conus cedonulli, or the resonance levels of the carbon atom-also suggest a God of purpose and a God of design. And I think my belief makes me no less a scientist.”

(Owen Gingerich, professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard University, and senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory)

 

“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

“In the history of science, ever since the famous trial of Galileo, it has repeatedly been claimed that scientific truth cannot be reconciled with the religious interpretation of the world. Although I am now convinced that scientific truth is unassailable in its own field, I have never found it possible to dismiss the content of religious thinking as simply part of an outmoded phase in the consciousness of mankind, a part we shall have to give up from now on. Thus in the course of my life I have repeatedly been compelled to ponder on the relationship of these two regions of thought, for I have never been able to doubt the reality of that to which they point.”

Werner Heisenberg (1932 Nobel laureate in physics)

 

“The best data we have (concerning the Big Bang) are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.”

“If there are a bunch of fruit trees, one can say that whoever created these fruit trees wanted some apples. In other words, by looking at the order in the world, we can infer purpose and from purpose we begin to get some knowledge of the Creator, the Planner of all this. This is, then, how I look at God. I look at God through the works of God’s hands and from those works imply intentions. From these intentions, I receive an impression of the Almighty.”

Arno Penzias (1978 Nobel laureate in Physics)

 

I believe that a full understanding of this remarkable human capacity for scientific discovery ultimately requires the insight that our power in this respect is the gift of the universe’s Creator who, in that ancient and powerful phrase, has made humanity in the image of God (Genesis I: 26-27). Through the exercise of this gift, those working in fundamental physics are able to discern a world of deep and beautiful order–a universe shot thorough with signs of mind. I believe that it is indeed the Mind of that world’s Creator that is perceived in this way.  Science is possible because the universe is a divine creation.

(John Polkinghorne, Fellow of the Royal Society; Knight Commander of the British Empire; formerly Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge and president of Queen’s College, Cambridge; after several years of theological study, also ordained an Anglican priest in 1982.  From his book Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship.)

 

 

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