EDGE: PROGRESS IN RELIGION - Page 2
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For Ian Barbour, who won the Templeton Prize last year, religion is an intellectual passion. For me it is simply a part of the human condition. Recently I visited the Imani church in Trenton because my daughter, who is a Presbyterian minister, happened to be preaching there. Imani is an inner-city church with a mostly black congregation and a black minister. The people come to church, not only to worship god, but also to have a good time. The service is informal and the singing is marvelous. While I was there they baptized seven babies, six black and one white. Each baby in turn was not merely shown to the congregation but handed around to be hugged by everybody. Sociological studies have shown that violent crimes occur less frequently in the neighborhood of Imani church than elsewhere in the inner city. After the two hour service was over, the congregation moved into the adjoining assembly room and ate a substantial lunch. Sharing the food is to me more important than arguing about beliefs. Jesus, according to the gospels, thought so too.

I am content to be one of the multitude of Christians who do not care much about the doctrine of the Trinity or the historical truth of the gospels. Both as a scientist and as a religious person, I am accustomed to living with uncertainty. Science is exciting because it is full of unsolved mysteries, and religion is exciting for the same reason. The greatest unsolved mysteries are the mysteries of our existence as conscious beings in a small corner of a vast universe. Why are we here? Does the universe have a purpose? Whence comes our knowledge of good and evil? These mysteries, and a hundred others like them, are beyond the reach of science. They lie on the other side of the border, within the jurisdiction of religion.

My personal theology is described in the Gifford lectures that I gave at Aberdeen in Scotland in 1985, published under the title, Infinite In All Directions. Here is a brief summary of my thinking. The universe shows evidence of the operations of mind on three levels. The first level is elementary physical processes, as we see them when we study atoms in the laboratory. The second level is our direct human experience of our own consciousness. The third level is the universe as a whole. Atoms in the laboratory are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom. The universe as a whole is also weird, with laws of nature that make it hospitable to the growth of mind. I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be either a world-soul or a collection of world-souls. So I am thinking that atoms and humans and God may have minds that differ in degree but not in kind. We stand, in a manner of speaking, midway between the unpredictability of atoms and the unpredictability of God. Atoms are small pieces of our mental apparatus, and we are small pieces of God's mental apparatus. Our minds may receive inputs equally from atoms and from God. This view of our place in the cosmos may not be true, but it is compatible with the active nature of atoms as revealed in the experiments of modern physics. I don't say that this personal theology is supported or proved by scientific evidence. I only say that it is consistent with scientific evidence.

 


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