Schaefer, Hawking and God
Last week we had the visit of prof. H. F. Schaefer III here at Babes-Bolyai, that awarded him an honoris causa doctorate for his contributions to computational chemistry, which I must say have been groundbreaking and paradigmatic. Nevertheless his visit is not without controversy. He gave a presentation entitled “Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang and God” which has previously caused some controversy (link) because in it he (somewhat strongly) hints that Christianity is the only valid way/path to a reconciliation between science and religion since widely accepted cosmological theories such as the Big Bang find correlations with creation ideas found in the Bible. He actually stated that the idea of an infinitely old universe is in accordance with Hinduism but not with Christianism. He of course didn’t go as far as to say that because of this reason, BBT is the right one. He said that Walter Nernst and other prominent scientists “hoped” the universe was infinitely old because that would be easier and more comfortable to accept.
The Q&A session was highly predictable: People asking questions such as “how can we believe in the Genesis if nobody was there?“; “aren’t most scientist around the world atheists?“; “who then created God?“. In a nutshell: very cheap attempts to try making Dr. Schaefer contradict himself, as if he hadn’t heard them all before! I imagine some of them thought “I’m going to make him realize God doesn’t exist!” Faith by definition needs no proof, scientists base their conclusions on proofs, so shouldn’t he first proof that God exists and then believe in him? In my opinion he doesn’t have to. Many scientists have separated their religious beliefs from their work in a successful way without feeling contradicted. Schaefer is an exceptionally intelligent person so he conducted his talk in a very intelligent and respectful way, stating every now and then that this were his beliefs and only his.
I myself asked him something of a more practical nature: I started by saying that religious beliefs are a very personal affair and that a debate on the existence of God could take forever “If so many scientists are tracing parallel lines between science and the Bible, doesn’t threatens the work of non-christian scientists and exposes them to be segregated from main stream science?” The answer I got was somewhat vague: “Science, as we know it today, was generated by Christians and has so far been extended to everyone, so now that [science] is out there everyone can be a part of it”.
Of course anyone is entitled to whatever religion he/she wants, but is it wise to preach, however subtly, from such a position? Religion is a very personal affair and I think that such a talk may influence young science students into follow non-scientific endeavors such as this intelligent design theory we have heard a lot about in recent years. Then again it would be tough not to fall into the intolerant category if one is to ask such speeches to be banned from universities all together, since a university should be the perfect place for respectful and insightful debates. In this same way, the work of scientists shouldn’t be scrutinized under a religious lens that could ultimately segregate the work of those who don’t agree with us.
Believe and let believe; that’s more my philosophy. Lets be inclusive and open minded, religions wont vanish, just as skepticism wont vanish either. Let both be starting points for ideas to arise so by hard work we ultimately achieve a full understanding and control of Nature (yes, with a capital N).