The God of Intellectuals

| 8/3/2011 4:38:57 PM

Tags: religion, Christianity, atheism, agnosticism, academia, Albert Einstein, The Browser, Big Questions Online, Margret Aldrich,

God looks down 

When Albert Einstein turned 50 in 1929, an interviewer asked him point-blank Do you believe in God? Big Questions Online, a publication of the John Templeton Foundation, recounts his answer:

I am not an atheist,” he began. “The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.”

In a recent video posted on The Browser, Jonathan Pararajasingham, a medical doctor based in the UK, collects footage of 50 renowned academics talking about God. The speakers come from philosophical and scientific fields like physics, chemistry, astronomy, and anthropology and include Noam Chomsky, Steven Hawking, Richard Feynman, and Peter Singer, among others—all atheist or temperately agnostic in their views. (“Most scientists don’t think about God enough to know whether they believe in him or not,” says physicist Lawrence Krauss.) 

The similarities between many of the academics’ thoughts—ranging from evidence-based belief to a focus on human suffering and justice to vague disinterest—are striking. What is also striking, though, is the homogeneity of the speakers. Would the discussion change if more female or culturally diverse academics were represented? How would it transform if it expanded to include individuals in the fields of art, literature, and music? What would Mozart, whose “Requiem Mass in D Minor” accompanies part of the film, tell us about God?

Sources: The Browser, Big Questions Online 

Image by Marcel Oosterwijk, licensed under Creative Commons.

10/17/2011 8:44:54 AM

Could they not find any women, minorities, indigenous intellectuals? Or are only the white, wealthy, European-descent males intelligent?

8/12/2011 9:10:31 AM

Don't all of us atheists sound like incoherent snobs when we actually have to read our own thoughts about whether there is a God or not? It's kind of like the discomfort you get when you hear your voice on an answering machine. I was fighting my way out of my childhood beliefs about whether God existed or not for quite some time when during a lecture in my Physiological Biology class, our professor told us that no one had ever found a soul while exploring parts of the brain. Of course, that was in the late 80's before the explosion of MRI brain research began. Now I can imagine the possibility of other forms of "life" existing outside of the material world. Also, have you imagined how intelligence actually works? Obviously, we define intelligence by what we think of as human thought, but don't we also recognize the same in other animals, including insects, in plants; and, why would we not consider microbes to be intelligent? If we consider all of life to have intelligence, why must we not consider the substrate material of which "life" is made up of to also have intelligence? Isn't it our imagination allowing us to think about these possibilities and concepts which allow us to "believe" in something or not? To change directions, for me, whether there is a God or Gods, or not, is a much less profound question than how the hell does anything exist at all. If there is a God, who created God? The thought of a "beginning" to anything just makes my mind explode.

steve eatenson
8/11/2011 7:51:10 AM

Much too much fun not to jump in! We don't even know what we are, where we come from, why we're here, what we're supposed to do. How can we know the nature of something much bigger than us? We are limited by sight, hearing, physical senses, smells, tastes, thoughts, emotions. How can we think these tools give us a clear picture of what is beyond self preservation in an unknown sea of hazards? Why do we feel we need God, a notion or understanding of God? Isn't it to feel safe? Here we are, held to a speck of dust soaring through space, bombarded by all sorts of flying objects, some very large, some very small. We're told by our best minds this speck of dust will someday cease to exist due to eruptions from inside the core or searing heat from of a burnout of our closest star and then a deep freeze. If we think about it at all, we have very little control, if any. Psychobabble tells us the only control we have is over our own thoughts. How many people do you know who can really control their thoughts and emotions? If we really have no control then our sense of control is an illusion. Do we imagine control to feel safe? Do we imagine a link to something larger than us that is in control to feel safe? Some still think we can dance around and make it rain. Some think the rain is out of our control. The answers are bigger than we are. Maybe through cooperation, not competition, the best we can do is to cling to one another and hope for the best.

8/11/2011 7:34:13 AM

Had a friend who thought the whole thing was "God being born." I've always been attracted to that idea.

8/10/2011 9:18:59 PM

Just a comment about design (I'm a graphic designer). A human designer does not start with a 'design' but with a question/problem/idea. The designer plays with the idea, comes up with a number of possible solutions, tries them out, until she/he finds a solution that works ... or not. If the latter, back to the drawing board. The designer will then, in most cases, continue refining the idea, coming up with better and better ideas. Sounds a lot like evolution to me. The fact that things don't always work perfectly in the world is not proof that there was no Designer God, but simply that the Designer God (if there was one) did not have a preconceived idea of what the end product would be, or even if there would be an 'end product.' The whole thing could be, could it not, a 'work in progress'?

8/10/2011 4:03:09 PM

I get a chuckle when someone bragging about Mensa has neglected to use spell check. Some interesting comments, although somewhat circuitus at times. We can apply "logical fallacies" rules to any side of these statements. And I'm intrigued that no one responded to my earlier comment concerning defining our terms clearly.

Shirley Hodge
8/10/2011 10:42:01 AM

I am not an academic just an old worn out nurse but I am intelligent (member of Mensa) and definately female. I am an athiest with no doubts at all in my mind that the god which humans worship, no matter his/her name nor method of worship simply does not exist. I am in agreement with Dr. Hawking's recent statement that the universe does not need an intellect of any sort to jump start it. I do not believe in spontaneity either. The conclusions I have reached from my readings and pondering is that a developed universe (and I do believe there are many maybe even millions) ignites every new 'big bang' event for a new universe and that the each universe has but one purpose, the development of intellect via the natural law/mechanism we call evolution. I believe that no universe actually exists until it has developed an living being with sufficient intellect to know, and respond to and identify the particular place where it exists within the universe and the universe itself. Because of this I believe also that in just our universe there has developed many intellects. Some are very successful in their persuit of knowledge of this universe and equally as many are failures such as homo sapian, (that is us, ha! ha!). I look upon my species as a failure because we have allowed ourselves to override our capacity for rational, logical thinking replacing it with superstition and myth in the form of religions and religious thought thus compromising our ability to know this universe.

8/10/2011 10:28:29 AM

This same Einstein also said, "For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions." When, like Templeton, you have a doctrinal agenda, it's difficult to grasp the complexity and subtlety that distinguishes Spinoza's pantheistic god who does not concern him/her/it/themselves with humans, and the god/s most humans worship. Even Buddhists indulge in worship, though Gautama didn't concern himself with it. Humans don't blink when one of them speaks for a deity unable-unwilling to speak plainly. Look up 'pious fraud'.

8/10/2011 10:06:37 AM

2 cents your comments were over priced. The more science unveils the more credence it gives to a creator. Carl Sagan said the cosmos was all that was and ever will be. Now we know that the universe is still expanding so I guess there is more. If something is expanding you could reverse the expansion backward to nothing. So back to the question how something out of nothing?

8/10/2011 9:33:33 AM

As with so many questions, our answers depend on our understanding of certain key words. For example, if God is an old man on a throne in the sky, then no, I don't believe that. Is God the biblical Yahweh or Jehovah, or the image of a god held by any specific culture? Not to me. If God is a name we give to the energy that apparently pervades all that is, then I would tend to say yes. When we ask these kinds of questions, it is important to define our terms very carefully. Otherwise, we will fail to understand the answers we get.

8/7/2011 5:12:48 PM

Ummmmm......a collection of (mostly) old White guys telling us what they think? Isn't this one of the main critiques of religion? I think that we as humans are incredibly arrogant to believe that we are the be all that ends all. I'm going to go with Einstein on this one.

My 2 cents
8/4/2011 9:09:30 PM

If one believes that God exists to explain those things which are unknown, then as Science expands our knowledge, doesn’t the role of God shrink in direct proportion? Isn’t this the fundamental conflict between God and science?