A common viewpoint
“Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God these days?”
It’s a viewpoint I have heard expressed by many people over the years. But I suspect that it is
often the unspoken doubt that stops many from engaging seriously with serious thinkers about
both science and God.
In reply, I like to ask a very scientific question: “Why not?”
“Well,” the answer comes back, “science has given us such marve-lous explanations of the universe
and demonstrates that God is just not necessary. Belief in God is old fashioned. It belongs to
the days when people didn’t really understand the universe, and just took the lazy way out and
said that ‘God did it.’ That sort of ‘God of the gaps thinking’ simply won’t do any more.
Indeed, the sooner we get rid of God and religion, the better.”
I sigh inwardly, and prepare myself for a long conversation in which I try to untangle the many
assumptions, mis-understandings and half-truths that have been absorbed uncritically from the
cultural soup we swim in.
A common viewpoint
It’s not surprising that this viewpoint is so common that it has become the default position for
many, if not most; it’s a viewpoint supported by some powerful voices. Stephen Weinberg, for
example, a Physics Nobel Prize winner said,
The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to
weaken the hold of religion should be done and may in fact be our greatest contribution to
I hope you didn’t miss the rather sinister-sounding totalitarian element in this statement:
“anything we scientists can do…”
This attitude is not new. I first met it fifty years ago while studying at Cambridge University.
I found myself at a formal college dinner sitting beside another Nobel Prize winner. I had never
met a scientist of such distinction before and, in order to gain the most from the conversation,
I tried to ask him some questions. For instance, how did his science shape his worldview—his big
picture of the status and meaning of the universe? In particular, I was interested in whether
his wide-ranging studies had led him to reflect on the existence of God.