What Scientists Believe


The notion that science and religion are at war is one of the great dogmas of the present age. For journalists, it is a prism through which to understand everything from the perennial kerfuffles over teaching evolution to the ethics of destroying human embryos for research. To many scientists, religious belief seems little more than a congeries of long-discredited pre-modern superstitions. For many religious believers, modern science threatens a deeply held faith that man is more than a mere organism and that our status as free beings bound by natural law implies the existence of a transcendent deity. But this is not the whole story. Every year, countless new books try to reconcile the claims of truths revealed by divine inspiration and those that are the product of earthly reason. Foundational developments and arcane speculations from theoretical physics — from the latest findings of quantum mechanics to the search for a “Theory of Everything” — take on a metaphysical import in the popular mind. One of the best known examples involves the cosmologist Stephen Hawking, who famously concluded his 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time with the suggestion that our search for scientific meaning may someday allow us to “know the mind of God.” More recently, Hawking has backed away from this statement. His new book, The Grand Design, which posits that the universe may have created itself out of quantum fluctuations, is but the latest in a long line of volumes by prominent physicists and cosmologists translating scientific theory for a popular audience. Along with volumes by biologists with a flair for explaining complex concepts, these books have become a locus of debate about the place of God and man in our understanding of the universe.

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