When I first saw the interview title (‘Is there a God? Aliens? An Astrophysicist answers’), my instinct was to say ‘Well, here’s another case of a person speaking on matters they have no expertise in.’ But I was pleasantly surprised when I read the following:
“What I tell people is that science in general and astronomy in particular do not address the question of whether or not there is a God. In science, conclusions are made based on evidence and confirmation of predictions, and that’s what differentiates scientific knowledge from unscientific knowledge.
“Recently Pope Benedict said something like this: ‘The Big Bang theory is proof that God exists.’ Actually it’s not. It’s only proof that something happened at the beginning of the universe, where there wasn’t space or time and then there became space and time. For many people, astronomers’ discoveries confirm what they thought was true all along: that God is there. And then for many others, the discoveries of astronomers confirm what they thought all along, and that is that God is unnecessary — that God doesn’t exist.
“So the Big Bang doesn’t really prove whether God or the gods are real or not, or whether the flying spaghetti monster is real or not; it’s just really, really cool — and what you believe follows from it is just a leap of faith.
His answer, in sum, is simply ‘Why are you asking me whether God exists?’ He isn’t saying God does or doesn’t exist, nor does he offer any theological advice.
Jim West has posted up some thoughts on his blog about this:
Theologians don’t dive into science and opine on topics like physics and mathematics and chemistry, so why do sciency people think they have the tools to speak about theology? Instead of answering questions they can’t, why can’t they just say ‘that’s not my field, I think it best you ask a theologian’.
But I think Jim might have misread the article (very unlike him). He doesn’t offer a single comment related to the study of God–and in fact is rather dismissive of it, which is precisely what Jim is asking of him. Saying ‘Science doesn’t address God’ is precisely what we’d expect to hear from a scientist when asked about God.
Or perhaps theologians should babble on about science. Let’s see how the sciency people like that. [And we know they don't. Just start a conversation on intelligent design or creationism and their little sciency heads explode in rage. Well here's some rage back at ya!]
But the thing is, Jim, if more theologians said ‘well religion doesn’t address science’ more often, I think scientists would be less inclined to cringe every time a theologian (dilettante) states the world is only 6,000 years old, that multi-celled organisms don’t spring from single-celled organisms, or that evolution is a myth–all things that are outside their field of expertise. What this scientist said is what you want scientists to say (essentially):
‘We don’t know, we don’t deal with those sorts of questions. Ask me about quarks or something.’
When he was asked his opinion, he stated it. But he was quite clear about his agnosticism and, in my opinion, quite appropriate in his answer.
In any event, the article is worth the read. And to all of my atheist friends, take heed! Using science as a device to say ‘well, God doesn’t exist’ just doesn’t work.