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Is belief in God Obsolete? May 14, 2008

Posted by aquillam in Philosophy, Science.
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This morning on the radio I heard that the Templeton Foundation is asking their next big question: “Does science make belief in God obsolete?

This struck me at first as a rather stupid question. Belief is seldom dependant solely on science or evidence. Belief brings us something: comfort, security, a sense of community, a moral code. Belief gives us hope and control. That’s probably a major part of the reason those in the lowest economic classes are the most likely to call a psychic or consult an astrologer, because it gives them hope and a sense of control (of course it also lightens their pocketbook, making it even harder for them to actually gain control.) There are many reasons that people hold beliefs, and science is only a part of it. I thought the answer was obvious.

But then I actually went to their website and read some of the comments, and discovered my error. Michael Shermer summed it up fairly well with the first sentence of his response, “The answer turns on whether one emphasizes belief or God.”

I assumed that if they had meant to ask “Does science make God obsolete” then that is what they would have asked. However, if science can really make God obsolete, that ought to make belief in him (her? them?) obsolete as well. Right?

Well, no not really. Science does pretty much end the need for supernatural explanations for physical phenomena. We have a fairly complete picture of how life began and developed on this planet. We have a pretty good idea of how the planet got here in the first place. We know why the stars shine, and how big the universe is. In other words, we have a pretty good idea of how the universe works, with no supernatural intervention needed to keep it in operation. In other words, god as the maker of all things in the universe is pretty much obsolete. And many of us know that.

So why do so many people persist in their belief in God? Why in fact, are so many people ready to commit murder and die for God if we don’t need him? Belief must provide these people with something else. Maybe it’s a sense of community. Maybe it’s a moral guidepost. Maybe it’s an excuse to name another group “evil” and injure them without feeling remorse. Maybe it’s that the concept of God isn’t limited to “the maker of all things”.

A friend of mine once said he was a christian because he liked the overall message of the New Testament, and being one gave him a feeling of connection to other christians, and a sense of history. For him, belief in God provided a connection to millions of people spanning 2 millennia, a connection he can’t find in anything else.

And maybe that’s the real answer. Belief in God won’t become truly obsolete until we can find a way to connect to one another spiritually without the need for a common Spirit.

Oh, and I once asked my friend if he thought he’d feel more connected if he belonged to a religion with more followers or an older religion, like maybe Hindu. He said no, because he didn’t know any Hindus.