Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion

Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion

Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion

Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion

Synopsis

Science is firmly at the center of both our contemporary understanding of the world and our hope for the future. For some, it has displaced religion, and those who remain religious must contend with challenges posed by science. Few, however, have direct scientific knowledge. Rather the impression of science held by the wider culture is based on the work of science popularizers -- public figures who create the image of science received by ordinary people. Furthermore, the opinions of these public intellectuals on the relationship between science and religion are often controversial, personal, and even idiosyncratic. Nevertheless they become widely known and perceived by many as authoritative conclusions derived from science. The Oracles of Scienceexamines the popular writings of the six scientists who have been the most influential in shaping our perception of science, how it works, and how it relates to other fields of human endeavor, especially religion. Biologists Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Edward O. Wilson, and physicists Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking, and Steven Weinberg, have become public intellectuals, articulating a much larger vision for science and what role it should play in the modern worldview. The scientificprestige and literary eloquence of each of these great thinkers combine to transform them into what can only be called oracles of science. Their controversial, often personal, sometimes idiosyncratic opinions become widely known and perceived by many to be authoritative. Curiously, the leading"oracles of science" are predominantly secular in ways that don't reflect the distribution of religious beliefs within the scientific community. Many of them are even hostile to religion, creating a false impression that science as a whole is incompatible with religion. Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas offer an informed analysis of the views of these six scientists, carefully distinguishing science from philosophy and religion in the writings of the oracles. This book will be welcomed by manywho are disturbed by the tone of the public discourse on the relationship between science and religion and will challenge others to reexamine their own preconceptions about this crucial topic.

Excerpt

Somewhere billions of miles from earth a spacecraft, ancient by all relevant standards, hurtles through space, an insignificant speck in a vast, empty, and some would say hostile cosmos. Although there is little chance that it will be noticed by alien life-forms, it nevertheless contains a message from the human race to whatever aliens find it, just in case. the message—both its content and the proposal to send it—was largely the work of Carl Sagan, a physicist who served briefly in the role of humanity's ambassador to the rest of the universe. Sagan was a dedicated, articulate, and tireless enthusiast for science; he spent his life looking through its lenses at all of human experience and subjecting whatever did not measure up, like religion, to withering criticism. His enthusiastic promotion of science turned him into a standard-bearer for the secular humanists as they pressed their case for science against religion.

Back on earth, in England, one of our species' most remarkable and productive minds resides in the tragically withered body of Stephen Hawking, the best-known physicist on the planet and one of the scientific community's rare celebrities. Hawking is a cosmologist who, in a runaway best-seller, sent a message to the world—in forty languages—that, at least at face value, implied that their universe had no beginning and there was, thus, nothing for God to do.

Hawking's fellow Brit, zoologist Richard Dawkins, celebrates that Darwinian evolution provides the freedom to disbelieve, to reject God, to be an “intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Dawkins, whose . . .

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