Date: Thu Apr 8 14:38:27 1999
Posted By: Dan Berger, Faculty Chemistry/Science, Bluffton College
Area of science: Science History
A glossary of terms used in this article is given at
the bottom. My apologies for the unavoidably Western bias in this article;
I am most familiar with Western thought.
How many famous scientists in this century are Christian/Catholic?
Truth is not established by majority vote.
The only conclusion reachable from the fact that this or that
famous scientist is agnostic, or atheist, or theist, or Christian,
is that their beliefs are probably reasonable ones and should not
be rejected out of hand.
With that, I will admit that I don't know exactly
famous scientists in this century are Christian/Catholic.
Rightly or wrongly, it is not something that is considered
important by their peers. I can give an incomplete list of
important 20th-Century scientists who
This list is by no means exhaustive. I know of more who are less prominent.
There are sure to be still more of whom I don't know
or am not certain. Again, religious beliefs are not usually
considered important by a scientist's peers.
Eddington, an important mathematical cosmologist, was a Quaker.
Lemaître, a Roman Catholic priest, proposed the Big
- I don't know whether Michael
Polanyi, the notable physical chemist and philosopher, was
Christian at the end of his life, but I know that
he was when he wrote Science,
Faith and Society, the best introduction to his thought.
F. "Fritz" Schaefer is one of the foremost theoretical chemists of our
Phillips was co-recipient of the 1997
Nobel Prize in Physics.
is the director of the U.S. Human
- Rustum Roy,
one of the world's foremost materials scientists, holds
three chairs at the Pennsylvania State University.
With the idea from Darwin et al we learn much more about our own
history, and from the theory (should I use "theory" here?) of
Big Bang, we know about the origin of everything. So it don't
seems to have much space for the existence of religious stuff.
But isn't it true that still quite a number of famous scientists
who are religious man? What does it bring out? Isn't it true
that the facts that we now have are strong enough to claim that
"God is Dead"? Or if the scientists are just overemphasize the
significance of the facts?
The answer to your question Isn't it true
that the facts that we now have are strong enough to claim that
"God is Dead"? is by no means definitively settled.
You'll find sites to give you whichever answer you prefer
below. But first, some
clarification and history.
Biological evolution and the Big Bang, like most other scientific
facts and theories, can be and have been used both for and
against theism. For example, Georges
Lemaître, who proposed the Big Bang on the basis of Hubble's
discovery of universal expansion, found comfort in the idea that the
universe had a beginning, because it validated his religious belief in
a transcendent creator.
Charles Darwin had devoutly Christian supporters even in his own day.
These days, many Christian theologians claim that an
evolutionary universe fits unforcedly into the Christian
conception of God. (For clarification, you may
or read anything by - for example - Nancey
or Ian Barbour.)
Those who claim that evolution is incompatible with theism should
remember that Augustine
of Hippo, the 5th-Century bishop and
philosopher, "scooped" Darwin by suggesting that God
created the universe
with built-in organizing principles through which all forms of
life and non-life developed. This is the position
of most theists in science.
Insofar as one exists, the "official position" of
SCIENCE on this question
is that science and religion are two different ways of knowing and
two different areas of inquiry. They should be kept separate, and
there is no necessary influence of one upon the other.
Many (or most) working scientists hold this view. The cynic may
suggest that this view simply avoids controversy, but by and large
it is honestly-held; for example, Stephen J. Gould's Rocks
of Ages: Science & Religion in the Fullness of Life.
Nevertheless, there are many (theists, non-theists and atheists) who claim
science is incompatible with theism. Many specifically point to evolution
and the central dogma of biology as supporting this position; Richard Dawkins has
claimed that Darwin makes it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled
atheist. But I'm afraid that Dawkins ascribes too much importance to
Atheism has been around for a very long time.
Three thousand years ago Hebrew poets
atheism. Some of the philosophies developed by the ancient Greeks were
robustly atheist - not in that they held that there were no gods, but
they held that the gods were products of natural processes just like
everything else. (See Lucretius'
Rerum Natura, which by the way was written during the beginning
of the Christian era in the Roman Empire).
It is possible that there was a hiatus of atheism in the
West after the Roman Empire turned Christian, but by
the 14th Century atheist thought was prominent enough to draw both
condemnation and closely-argued refutation from the Roman Catholic
Church. Atheism became prominent again during the European
Renaissance, with the rediscovery of the atheist philosophers of
the ancient world. And Enlightenment figures like Voltaire
and Laplace based their atheism on Newtonian mechanics (though Newton
himself did not agree).
The bottom line:
- Evolution is often considered a point in favor of atheism. But
atheism does not require biological evolution to exist;
if evolution were demonstrably false, there would still be atheists
who could justify their atheism by careful argument.
- The Big Bang theory is often considered a point in
favor of theism. But the theology of creation
does not require that the universe have a temporal
beginning! So even if the universe were demonstrably eternal,
there would still be theists who could justify their theism by
No article addressing your question would be complete without a
list of resources. I suggest that you begin with resources
defending theism since you hold the opposite opinion, just as
I would suggest that a theist begin with resources defending
Most of the resources available on the Web which defend theism
are concerned with Christian
theism. This is because Christianity is the dominant Western form of
theism, and the Internet has been and continues to be dominated by
westerners. I will limit myself to three sites which defend theism
reasonably well and/or provide a great many links.
is devoted to
- The SCICHR-L
homepage provides many articles and links on the relationship
- The SciRel-L
homepage provides links to pages on the relationships between
The best single site is The Secular
Web. The last
time I spent any time there, the quality of the articles was mixed: some of
them were very
good indeed, and some of them were ad hominem screeds without
substance. This site is centered around naturalism/materialism (see
Two other useful sites are
A final, wry word which I could not resist inserting:
One of the most common arguments against theism is psychological.
The projection theory of religious experience was developed by
Freud; theists are said to project their earthly fathers/parents onto some
imaginary father in heaven. But sauce for the goose is sauce for the
gander: atheism can also be nicely explained
classical Freudian psychology.
Most of the definitions in this glossary are oversimplified; but then,
Karl Popper called science "the art of systematic
oversimplification." I suggest a good encyclopedia-dictionary
of philosophy or religion.
- ad hominem argument
- An argument which attacks an opponent's character rather than
discusses the issues. This is one of what are considered logical
- The agnostic believes that there does not exist enough evidence
decide one way or another whether God exists. Most agnostics do not
believe that such evidence is possible. T.H.
Huxley coined the term in an 1889 monograph.
- The atheist denies that there are any gods at all. There are
forms of atheism.
- Naturalism or materialism
- While these terms are not identical, both the
the materialist deny the existence of anything not
an undirected, natural process involving only substances
describable by physics (matter, energy and space-time).
- Mystical atheism (usually, I think, a form of Buddhism)
- I know less about this form of atheism. What I am
"mystical atheism" does not deny the existence of
spiritual or the numinous, but does deny the existence of
per se. It seems to me that "enlightened"
humans may take a godlike role.
Not all forms of Buddhism are atheist; Tibetan and (I
think) Chinese Buddhism involve the action and worship of
goddesses and tend to be more pantheist (q.v.). On
hand, I believe that Zen Buddhism
an atheistic religion.
- According to my dictionary, metaphysics deals with the nature
reality and the relationship between mind and matter. More
metaphysics deals with questions of ethics, morality, and the
"ultimate" questions: Why is there something rather than
nothing? Why do we have strong impressions of good and evil? and so
- panentheism ("all is in God")
- Panentheism is similar to pantheism (q.v.) in that it
the universe is contained in God, but differs in that it holds that
God is more than the universe. Because of this, panentheism is
classed as a form of theism (q.v.).
- pantheism ("all is God")
- Pantheism identifies the universe with God. This can obviously
take many forms; compare the pantheism of Spinoza and Einstein, in
which the God/universe is impersonal, with Hinduism, in which the
universe and everything in it are personified.
- Polytheism is the belief in more than one god; this group of
often called a pantheon. All the
polytheistic religions I am aware of hold that the gods were born
the universe rather than vice versa. This makes them pantheistic
(q.v.) as well as polytheistic (see theism).
Possible exceptions to this qualification include dualist
religions, of which
the most important.
- Theism is defined by my dictionary as "the belief in the
existence of a god or gods." This, however, is a weak
Theism more specifically holds that God is other than the universe,
God freely chose to create the universe, and that God is sovereign.
of the claims of theism are moderated by panentheism (q.v.),
which is nevertheless similar enough to be considered a form of
It should be recognized that theism may be arrived at
in this century, people including
North Whitehead and Paul
have come to theism by philosophical evidence, without being led to
one of the three major forms of theism.
The three major theistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam)
hold similar basic views. They claim that God is unitary, God is
source and upholder of the universe, and God is other than the
Nevertheless, some individual Jews, Christians and Muslims are
panentheists (q.v.) or even pantheists (q.v.).
Theism should not be confused with deism, which
essentially holds that God created the universe and then left.
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