Can science reach God

Less than six years ago, the anthropologist John Priest complained that in the scientific community one has long been allowed to be anything - black, gay, woman or transvestite - except one thing under no circumstances: religious. Because with the commitment to religiosity

Less than six years ago, the anthropologist John Priest complained that in the scientific community one has long been allowed to be anything - black, gay, woman or transvestite - except one thing under no circumstances: religious. Because with the confession of religiosity a researcher loses all respectability, which is why scientists have to keep their religious convictions as secret as possible. He courageously came out as a Christian and thus sparked a small but heated discussion in the quiet corner of the magazine “Current Anthropology”.

Indeed, in recent years some major public advocates of Darwinism have been gripped by a downright crusader mentality. In their most recent books, for example, the philosopher of science Daniel Dennett (“Breaking the Spell”) or the neuroscientist Sam Harris (“The End of Faith”) no longer just argue for biological evolution, but for atheism. And the biologist Richard Dawkins from Oxford, who has been the most successful representative of Darwinism in popular science since his first work "The egoistic gene", writes in his most recent book "Gotteswahn" with an almost missionary furore against the "disease" and "child abuse" in his Eyes represent religious belief and upbringing.

The books of these “new atheists”, as they like to call themselves, climb the American bestseller lists and provoke the fundamentalist Christian creationists with gusto. But at the same time, some things seem to have changed in science in terms of religion. The Faraday Institute for Science in Religion was established in Cambridge last year, and the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion in Oxford has been around for a long time. Symposiums and seminars on “Faith and Evolution” or “God and Quantum Physics” are the order of the day. Biochemists, molecular biologists and particle physicists argue about the possibility of miracles or about "scientific theology".

The god of the genome

And now the new atheists have also acquired a worthy antipode: Francis Collins, physicist, physician and renowned director of the Human Genome Project, personally professes the Christian faith in his recently published book “The Language of God”. In June 2000, Collins and President Clinton presented the world with the complete decoding of the human genome. At the time, he said, mankind “caught a first glimpse of the instruction book with the genome, which until now only God has known”. Since these words he has been attacked from all sides, Collins now says, by scientific colleagues as well as by fundamentalist creationists. This has led him to publicly confess and explain his Christian faith as a scientist.

In his book, Collins tells how, growing up without a special religious background, he first studied physics, then switched to medicine and, after talking to an old patient, found the Christian faith at the age of 26. Since then, the top scientist has not only been convinced of the existence of a being beyond time and space, he also sees absolutely no problem in combining this belief with his science: "The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome."

And so they no longer argue with believers and sect representatives, but with each other, these genetic researchers, doctors and evolutionary biologists, in their books and interviews. About whether the universe and the laws of nature, according to probability theory, can really have come about by chance (yes, says Richard Dawkins) - or whether this unique chance speaks for a creator being (as Francis Collins thinks). Whether supernatural occurrences - i.e. miracles - are based solely on delusion, wishful thinking and deception (Dawkins) or could be conceivable as direct intervention of God (Collins). Whether ultimately the non-existence of God (Dawkins) or rather the existence of God (Collins) can be proven "scientifically".

You rub your eyes - scientific proof of God? To the vast majority of non-natural scientists in Western societies, the argument about proofs of God seems as absurd as it is obsolete: Atheism, against whose social ostracism Dawkins and co are fighting, has long been socially acceptable, religious belief, which they present as a public danger, is largely a private matter. Even most Western believers today have little trouble letting scientific facts and biblical images coexist.

So what's going on here - a 12th century monk bickering? "More like a philosophers' dispute from the 18th," says Michael Hagner, science researcher at ETH Zurich. At that time, the idea of ​​God as the great watchmaker was widespread: once devised and wound up by God, the world clockwork has been running by itself ever since.

Coincidence or creation

In fact, the thinking of those scientists who today profess to be believers in terms of the theory of “Intelligent Design” (ID) shows a certain resemblance to the old watchmaker's thesis. ID, an intellectual variety of creationism, sees itself as a scientific hypothesis on par with Darwin's theory of evolution (which, however, has long since been falsified): The immense complexity of many biomolecular processes and organisms - according to the postulate - could not possibly have arisen through natural selection, but rather presuppose a divine «designer» ahead.

The second variant of the scientific argument for a creator god is mainly represented by astrophysicists - Francis Collins also supports it. It is based on the improbable coincidence of our universe: if the temperature in the Big Bang had not been 10 32 Kelvin and the density had not been 10 94 g / cm 3, no universe would have been created. If the expansion of the universe had not formed an excess of 1 billionth of matter over antimatter, the physical, chemical and biological basis for the evolution of life would not have been available. "We live in one world," says the 75-year-old British particle physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, "whose existence can either be explained by an extraordinary coincidence or by the many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics or by an act of creation." For him personally, the idea of ​​a creator represents a “more promising strategy for the metaphysical explanation of the world” than mere materialism. Richard Dawkins uses probability theory to refute this view and to argue for chance as the originator of our universe, but it should be clear to every non-scientist that this question can hardly be decided "scientifically".

The personal god

What do scientists really believe when they believe? In the 20th century, three major surveys of outstanding American scientists asked this question and showed a clear trend: The percentage of scientists who believe in a personal God has steadily declined, from 32 percent in 1914 to 10 percent in 1998. It was the percentage of believers among physicists and mathematicians is always higher than among biologists, of whom only 5 percent professed God in 1998. At least 5 percent, one could also say, because especially for biologists, the theory of evolution excludes the idea of ​​a divine creation.

So two biologists wanted to know more about it. Greg Graffin from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Will Provine from Cornell University interviewed only biologists who cite evolution as their specialty and who for a study published in August ("American Scientist", vol. 95, p. 294) are also members of a prestigious academy. Graffin and Provine further distinguished not only two attitudes - belief or non-belief in God, but three, which they call theism, deism and naturalism. In the Anglo-Saxon tradition, the term theism stands for belief in a personal God, who can be reached through prayer, for example. Deism, on the other hand, means that belief in a higher being who created the world (or the universe), but has since no longer acted directly on it, but at most remains present in the wonders of nature - that is, belief in an impersonal Creator God. Finally, naturalism corresponds to the atheist-materialist position, but formulates it positively: He does not like the expression atheism, explains Greg Graffin, because it only denies the existence of God. A naturalist, on the other hand, has a positive humanistic conviction: "The belief that it is possible to find the truth about the world through processes of observation, discovery and verification". Finally, the questionnaire made it possible to locate one's own convictions somewhere between the three positions by drawing them on a triangle (see graphic).

The result is somewhat amazing. It is true that the vast majority of evolutionary biologists are clearly committed to naturalism. But this majority is only 78 percent! Around one in five of these high-ranking specialists in Darwin's teaching takes a different position: Although only a single percent (2 people) clearly place themselves in the corner of theism (belief in a personal God). But another 21 percent position themselves somewhere between the three corners of the triangle, most (15 percent) on the side of deism. At least 10 percent of those surveyed believe in immortality in some form. And while 73 percent only admit material properties to natural organisms, 23 percent also want spiritual properties to apply.

Even more than these results, says Graffin, he was surprised how the evolutionary biologists answered another question, which, however, has nothing to do with the existence of God. That is, according to the relationship between evolutionary theory and religious belief. The question was: "Are the two 'theories' absolutely mutually exclusive, do they simply not touch, can they be harmonized or, fourth, can religion be understood as a natural adaptation and thus integrated into the theory of evolution?" 72 percent of those questioned agreed with the latter answer and therefore did not see religiosity in contradiction to the theory of evolution, but to a certain extent as part of it. Only a full 10 percent see the conflict between religion and evolutionary theory as inevitable, as the combative atheists do.

Old opium for the people

It is this minority who cheer up the seemingly anachronistic controversies about the existence of God with great dispute. "Richard Dawkins is a successor to Karl Marx: He sees religion exclusively as opium for the people," says Michael Hagner. However, his aggressive stance is also likely to have something to do with the no less aggressive attack of creationism on the theory of evolution. "Here two radical positions have dogged each other," says Hagner. "Challenged by creationism, the biologists are now postulating their view of the world with great aspirations." Physicists and mathematicians today simply have no comparable opposition.

Despite everything - there remains a remnant of wonder in the struggle between scientists and God: These clever minds seem to have no sense of why many people and even some of their colleagues do not want their faith to be stolen from them. Research in evolutionary psychology in particular comes to the conclusion that religious belief is part of human nature. From this point of view, religiosity is an adaptive achievement of evolution. This, of all people, does not seem to take notice of the Darwinist atheists. "The thought figure that religion is about a strong element of consolation and justice, which makes death, transience and suffering more bearable - is simply not on the agenda of these researchers," says Michael Hagner. "That is the great delusion of Richard Dawkins: Even if he is satisfied with what science has to offer, he absolutely cannot understand that other people need something else."

Do people who are interested in facts and the question of how, perhaps quite simply simply not feel any interest in the question "Why?", In the question of the meaning? Are they "religiously unmusical", as the philosopher Jürgen Habermas once called it? For Michael Hagner, psychological interpretations are of little help - after all, they do exist, believing natural scientists. To him, the influence of collective scientific cultures appears to be more decisive. While theoretical physicists and mathematicians were drawn to metaphysics again and again, biologists in the century after Darwin increasingly agreed on the atheistic stance. "For them, the following sentence applies: without Darwin, everything has no sense," explains Michael Hagner. "But whether everything makes sense with Darwin - that is of course the question that a lot of people ask."