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Lions Roar : September 2005
5 2 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 Another measure of the intensity of the dispute are the cat- egory-5-hurricane rhetorical winds—read all shrubs, trees, and signs blown down, complete destruction of mobile homes—generated by various individual disputants. When meeting a scientist who also believes in divinity, the defiantly atheist New York Times science writer Natalie Angier starts popping mental veins. “How can a bench-hazed Ph.D., who might of an afternoon deftly puree a colleague’s PowerPoint presentation on the nematode genome into so much fish chow, then go home, read a two-thousand-year-old chronicle riddled with internal contradictions of a meta-Nobel discov- ery like ‘Resurrection from the Dead,’ and say, gee, that sounds convincing?” she writes in an essay on her “god problem.” To this David F. Coppedge, founder and “chief bwana” of a website devoted to both disproving evolution and promoting “creation safaris,” responds with equal vitriol: “The laziness of evolutionists is parasitic on society. Did this tall tale by Darwin Party mythmakers bless your heart? Did it do anybody any good? Did it advance civilization or help those in need? Challenge your professor when he wastes your time with improvable assertions and glittering generalities that assume evolution before the evidence even has had a chance to speak.” The conflict between religion and science is hardly new— the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo and battles over Darwinism in the last century leap to mind—but what is star- tling is the vehemence of the conflict in what, if you judge from the numbers of recipients of Nobel Prizes and the nationality of authors of scientific papers, is the leading scien- tific country on earth. I will leave it to others to reflect on the Red State versus Blue State, Bushites versus Kerryites sociolo- gy aspect of the conflict, and discuss in this essay two things. First, what seems to me to be the essence of the disagreement, and second, some hope if not exactly for a resolution, then for a reconfiguration of complaint. I wish to approach the first not from a he-said, she-said accounting of what the disputants say is the problem, but from the dim, dark cellar of my youth, where I once had a reli- gion/science moment so profound that it deformed the rest of my life. I had obtained some LSD, and those being the days when the drug was supposed to open up Huxley’s euphonious Doors of Perception, I conceived taking it as a way to encounter God, who to that moment seemed to have gone out of his or her or its way to ignore me. So I took my tab and laid down on a mattress in a dumpy apartment on the Lower East Side and awaited a divine incarna- tion. What transpired was instead exceedingly clinical: the splotched walls melted, my body seemed to disconnect from my brain, fantasy flowers bloomed in the melted paint—and then nothing. Reality had become an hallucination, but no god, no higher consciousness, no sense of the divine manifested itself. So I got up and later that night started to tell my friends that I had conducted a scientific experiment and it proved there was no God. It was, in retrospect, a gigantically arrogant interpretation of the even more fantastically constructed god-conceit of LSD’s promoters, but one that was deeply bolstered by my sense that I had been, as best I could be, scientific in my search. I had seized upon what philosopher Karl Popper argued was the essence of what science was. Mine was a testable thesis. If LSD opened up a pathway in which God suddenly became available, God should appear to me. If the technique worked for me, the experiment could supposedly be repeated with others. To avoid the possibility of other influences, I’d also made sure I had taken only LSD and nothing else. While there might be problems with the Stephen Strauss God experi- ment—a sample size of one, for example—I had made myself open to the possibility that a sense of the divine would appear by clearing my mind of doubt about the existence of a god. I describe this experience because it seems to me that it captures, in its youthful arrogance, what is the most funda- mental but oft unexpressed element in the present conflict between science and religion. The warring in some large way is between conflicting and conflicted methodologies. Scientists believe in their results, but only because they believe in a deeper sense in science’s methodology, and that methodology is profoundly materialistic and non-transcen- dental. Anyone who has ever spent ten seconds in a scientific laboratory has to be struck by how much discovery has become a routine. You conduct an experiment, and then con- duct it again, and then conduct it a third time, because you worry that your materials were contaminated, or that the graduate student from Japan who had worked a sixteen-hour shift had fallen asleep at a crucial moment, or that your result was an artifact of a machine’s hiccup. If things keep repeating themselves, then you write up your results in a scientific paper and distribute it to other scientists, who try as hard as they can to figure out how you have tricked yourself into believing that you understand nature. When you have convinced them that you haven’t made some fundamen- tal methodological mistakes, then what you found can be published, and others can try to repeat your experiment. If they succeed, it is thought that what you have found is—more or less—true. If not, suddenly the evil wind of potential sci- entific fraud starts blowing through your life. This faith in how you arrive at answers has an almost reli- gious feel to it. It led that most scientific—and most theist— of American presidents, Thomas Jefferson, to opine that “the patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and com- parison of them, is the drudgery which man is subjected to by his Maker, if he wishes to attain sure knowledge.”