Peter is Professor of Chemistry at Oxford College and a fellow of Lincoln College at the University of Oxford. He is the author of more than thirty books, including the widely used textbooks, Physical Chemistry and Molecular Quantum Mechanics. Exemplifying Peter’s popular writing is Galileo’s Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science. His anti religion book is Creation Revisited. He writes and speaks vigorously against religion and he takes no prisoners. For example: “Science is almost totally incompatible with religion. I say "almost," but I do not wish that weasel word to be construed as weakness. The only point of compatibility is that there are well-meaning, honest people on both sides who are genuinely and deeply concerned with discovering the truth about this wonderful world. That having been said, there is no actual compatibility between science and religion. Science's dispassionate stare examines issues publicly, exchanges information openly, discusses awkward points objectively, and builds up a network of interdependent ideas and theories that progressively expose the complex as an outcome of the simple. Religion's inwardly directed sentimental glow reflects on issues privately, exchanges information by assurance and assertion, discusses awkward points by warfare, terror, and coercion, and builds up a network of conflicting ideas that conceal ignorance under a cloak of high-flown yet empty prose. Science reveals where religion conceals. Where religion purports to explain, it actually resorts to tautology. To assert that "God did it" is no more than an admission of ignorance dressed deceitfully as an explanation. Science, with its publicly accessible corpus of information and its open, scrutable arguments, can lead the wondering to an understanding of the entire physical world. (Below, of course, I shall have to argue that that is the entire world.) Science respects the power of the human intellect; religion belittles it. Science gives us the prospect of full understanding, for it continues to show that, given time, there is no aspect of the world that is closed to its scrutiny and explanation. Religion disarmingly avers that human brains are too puny to achieve full comprehension. Yet science is progressively advancing toward complete knowledge, leaving religions bobbing about in its wake. Science is hard work, but the answers it hews from the rock face of ignorance are reliable. Religion is armchair speculation well fitted to adipose brains. Science cannot answer deep questions by words alone: it draws on the perspiration of countless experimenters and the struggles of theoreticians to make sense of the data. Religion can speculate wildly, and therefore uselessly, from flabby, personal opinion and never be put to the test, except perhaps beyond the grave. There is, of course, no beyond the grave except in the minds of those who cannot come to terms with the prospect of their own annihilation…. Because religion implicitly asserts that science cannot divine the purpose of the universe, the religious conclude that science's orb is incomplete. That, of course is illogical, for religion cannot be allowed to invent illusory hoops for its adversaries to leap through: hoops, yes; illusory hoops, no. There are several examples of the invention of such hoops, including life after death (not a jot of evidence, if wishful thinking is excluded), the soul (ditto), and the existence of evil in a world created by an infinitely loving God (a trivial problem if there is no such God)… There is of course one big, cosmically big, seemingly real question: Where did it all come from? Here we see most sharply the distinction between the methods. Religion adopts the adipose answer: God made it - for reasons that will forever remain inscrutable until, perhaps, we become one with Him (that is, until we are dead). Such an answer, while intrinsically absurd and evil in its implications, appears to satisfy those for whom God is a significant part of their existence. Science, in contrast, is steadily and strenuously working toward a comprehensible explanation. Witness the extraordinary progress that has been made since the development of general relativity at the beginning of the twentieth century. Though difficult, and still incomplete, there is no reason to believe that the great problem, how the universe came into being, and what it is, will not be solved; we can safely presume that the solution will be comprehensible to human minds. Moreover, that understanding will be achieved this side of the grave. In short, whereas religion scorns the power of human comprehension, science, the nobler pursuit, respects it.
- Arguing God from Unusual Reasons? (Peter Atkins)
- Why the Cosmos? (Peter Atkins)
- Where Do the Laws of Nature Come From? (Peter Atkins) (Part 2 of 2)
- Where Do the Laws of Nature Come From? (Peter Atkins) (Part 1 of 2)
- How does Beauty Color the Universe? (Peter Atkins)
- What Causes Complexity? (Peter Atkins)
- What is God Like? (Peter Atkins)
- Arguments Against God? (Peter Atkins)
- Fallacies in Arguing for God? (Peter Atkins)
- How can Emergence Explain Reality? (Peter Atkins)
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