Mario Livio’s book “Is God a Mathematician?” (2009) provides a delightful history of mathematics and its many heroes, but fails to answer the question posed in the title. Dr. Livio does address directly the slightly different question of whether mathematics is a human creation, or a human discovery. In other words, is mathematics absolute, and therefore potentially a “creation of God”, or is it invented, a kind of technology resulting from human endeavor. While mathematics and the physical world are very different things, I think it’s clear they are both a “creation of God.” (more…)
I heard an interesting interview on the podcast “EconTalk” recently. Russ Robert’s guest was David Rose, author of a new book on The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior. Both are self-described skeptics of religion. Dr. Rose’s key finding is that efficient and effective markets require specific foundational moral principles that promote and reinforce trust, without which markets will fail. His principles, which he claims to have derived from research and insights on the functioning of markets, sound remarkably similar to the Ten Commandments.
How to Talk to an Atheist
Kathy, in corresponding with me about ISAS, has shared some of her experiences in talking with atheists. She offers a succinct explanation of the causal argument for the existence of God, and I add some additional comments on the challenge of building a dialogue between those who believe in God and those who reject such beliefs. (more…)
This week the EconTalk podcast featured a discussion on whether economics, with its limited predictive capabilities, can be classified as “science”. I found the exchange (between Alex Rosenberg and Russ Roberts) to be wide-ranging, interesting and very perceptive, but I was disappointed that both missed the mathematical dimension to the issue of predictability.
I recently heard an economist talking about the problem of cognitive bias in the economics profession, and it occurred to me that this is a key issue in the science and spirituality discussion. A quick survey of the topic (link here) demonstrates the hugely fallible quality of human rationality. How can we get past the problem? Honest and humble introspection – and respect for those holding contrary positions. (more…)
From the earliest years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), debates raged about the failure of evolution by natural selection to provide for empathy, that most human of human traits. The controversy has continued ever since – and ISAS will tackle this and related subjects on May 16 at a discussion forum featuring Dr. Reuben Bell. At the same time, noted mathematical biologist Martin A. Nowak has released a groundbreaking book entitled Supercooperators: The Mathematics of Evolution, Altruism and Human Behaviour (Or, Why We Need Each Other to Succeed) (2011). (more…)
I was recently explaining the Concept of ISAS to someone who said, “oh, like God of the Gaps.” I later took a quick scan of the postings that showed up on a web-search and confirmed that this is another buzz-word mine-field, treating science and spirituality like battlefield competitors. In contrast, ISAS is based on the concept that science and spirituality belong together – complementary rather than antagonistic. (more…)
This list includes a variety of useful resources on the science-religion debates. It is not, by any means, exhaustive, as a google search on the topic will demonstrate. As I come across additional materials, the list below will be updated.
Over the past four hundred years, the scientific mode of understanding the world has achieved remarkable success. The technologies that have grown from scientific inquiry have propelled the human race into a prosperity and superfluity that would have been unimaginable to anyone living in a pre-industrial society. The resulting credibility gave science an authoritative claim to being the truth about the world.
One might wonder why any alternative claim to truth, such as through religious experience or revelation, could survive. Yet religion has survived, and in many ways has flourished. One reason is that science has generally not claimed to be able to answer all questions about human life – including the questions of where the world came from and why we are here. Another reason is that science has been inadequate in dealing with our conscious, emotional and creative experience. However, religious ideas have, with few exceptions, ceded considerable territory to scientific ones in these four centuries.
In the past few decades, the uneasy truce between science and religion, if there was one, seems to have broken. Pre-eminent scientists such as E.O. Wilson, Stephen Hawking and others, have felt compelled to attack all religion as irrational superstition. Many religious adherents have raised strident voices supporting biblical literalism and demeaning scientists’ claim to truth – enough of them serve on local school boards to significantly influence the teaching of science in public schools.
The stridency and bitterness of these exchanges are of significant concern and undermine critically needed civil discourse on the ideas and changes that are shaping our lives. In contrast to the public squabbling, the common sense view of most people is that scientific and spiritual modes of understanding the world are both valid and do not contradict each other. And fortunately, this topic has been getting increasing attention by writers, thinkers, scientists, theologians and the media in recent years. In fact, the literature on efforts to understand and explore the interface of science and spirituality has been exploding.
As someone who is steeped in mathematics, science and philosophy, I do believe that science is valid and that the scientific endeavor has brought incredible benefits to human life and transformed our understanding of and relationship to the natural world. However, the history of science also shows that scientific knowledge evolves over time. Time and again, scientists over-reach the actual results they have observed – and their conclusions are reversed or amended by the next generation using better tools and more refined theories.
At the same time, my experience in life has reinforced my belief that there are spiritual truths that transcend the limitations of the natural world. This spiritual knowledge is critical to our choices about how to live and how, ultimately, to be happy. We engage in the process of understanding spiritual truth in very different ways than we do scientific truth. This does not mean that either mode of knowing is invalid.
So how do we integrate our scientific and spiritual understanding of the world and our life in the world? Are they dealing in totally separate realms of knowledge and, as a result, they do not and should not intersect? Or are there possibilities for integrating the two modes of understanding – can they be complementary? And if so, what can we gain in our spiritual inquiry from an understanding of science – and, correspondingly, what can we learn about science from our understanding of spiritual truth?
That is the purpose of the ISAS Forum. I invite you to help me find answers to these questions. Please post your thoughts and reactions to what I and others have to offer. Together, perhaps, we can hope to influence the course of the ongoing debates and make a positive contribution to human understanding.
Thank you for your interest. George Gantz