Thursday, 10 April 2014

God and Modern Science

Reading Einstein, Hawking, and Whitehead on God and Religion
Most of modern scientists don’t believe in God. However the God that is denied by the most sophisticated or philosophical amongst scientists is not necessarily the object of religion but of exotericist theology. Today we consider the views of Einstein, Whitehead (great mathematician-philosopher) and Hawking on God to clarify a few points.
Einstein is often quoted to buttress the thesis that science affirms God. But we know that he didn’t believe in personal God but in the universal intelligence or impersonal principle of beauty and harmony that can be identified more with mystical conception of God. His God is the God of Spinoza which is not very different from the God of Sufis and identified with Reality.  He said that “the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible.” For him, acknowledgment of mystery constitutes the crux of religion and in that sense he considered himself religious. Hawking is quoted by atheists in their support. He would, at best, acknowledge only a metaphoric use for God as unity or sum of natural laws. He refutes commonly held understanding of creation out of nothing but leaves the question of Mystery at the heart of things untouched. Whitehead, the most sophisticated as a thinker or philosopher amongst great modern scientist-philosophers, believed in God though not the God of popular theology but that of process philosophy. Whitehead is co-author of one of the greatest books on philosophy of mathematics Principia Mathematica and author of highly popular Science and the Modern World. In the later book he defined religion thus:
"Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of the present facts; something which gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest."
If this is the definition of religion – and one can argue that it is amongst the best currently available – how can one imagine science questioning it?
The thesis that science has made it impossible to believe in the God of exoteric theology, a cosmic policeman,  a being albeit superior one among other beings has been forcefully argued by Tillich and Stace and a host of other thinkers. Stace’s damning article “Man Against Darkness” on impact of science on belief written in 1948 is essentially refuted by his turn to mysticism and he became perhaps the most influential philosopher of mysticism and wrote perhaps the most lucid and compelling work on mysticism titled Time and Eternity (quite short and enjoyable by general readers like another classic by Underhill titled Practical Mysticism). Its first chapter quotes Whitehead’s above quoted definition of religion and then comments:
“Religion seeks the infinite and the infinite by definition is impossible, unattainable. It is by definition that which can never be reached.  Religion seeks the light. But it isn’t a light which can be found at any place or time.  It isn’t somewhere. It is the light which is nowhere. It is “the light which never was on sea or land.”  Never was.  Never will be even in the infinite stretches of future time. This light is non-existent …. Yet it is the great light which lightens the world.  Religion is the desire to break away from being and existence altogether to get beyond existence into that nothingness where the great light is.  It is the desire to be utterly free from the fetters of being.  For every being is a fetter.  Existence is a fetter.  To be is to be tied to what you are.  Religion is the hunger for the non being which yet is …..Religion is that hunger which no existence past, present or future, no actual existence and no possible existence, in this world or in any other world on the earth or above the cloud and stares material or mental or spiritual, can ever satisfy.  For whatever is or could be will have the curse of thisness or thatness.”
Let me ask: Are there any atheists around in the sense that they totally deny the mystery in the heart of existence,  the joy and beauty that abounds everywhere, the need to consider the why instead of just how of things. Who can afford to deny the God understood as What Is, Totality, Unity, Being of beings or pure being or Beyond-being? Man can’t deny life giving mystery that wells up in everything and live. All people worship God including those who think themselves to be atheists as Ibn Arabi demonstrated though one may always find some versions of this worship somewhat limiting. As  Stace wrote. “To ask for a proof of the existence of God is on a par with asking for a proof of the existence of beauty. If God does not lie at the end of any telescope, neither does he lie at the end of any syllogism.” Who can claim to be consistent atheist  by denying the trinity of values of goodness, beauty and truth?
The greatest scientists of modern age have not refuted religious thesis of the Absolute/Pure Consciousness/God as Reality/Mystery of Being (atheistic Dawkins, Weinberg and their ken refute crudely put theism and not the religion as understood by great sages) but do acknowledge Mystery and some kind of Principle of Harmony and Beauty and thus the essence of religious thesis. Understanding God as Mystery or mystery of things or depth dimension of existence is what no scientists can nor has refuted. The Quran too has asked for belief in the mystery of existence (yuminoona bilgayyib). Artists, mystics and the greatest scientists of all times have asked us to celebrate this mystery. Religion is best defined as refusal to demystify existence. No attempt to demystify universe has succeeded or will succeed if we understand the difference between appearance and reality, limits of logic and language in capturing heart of reality, don’t deny the poetic and aesthetic sense in us, the distinction between beings and the Being that grounds them, subjective element in all experience.
God is to be understood and tasted and not proved. A philosopher contemplates Being that masses call God. Mysticism and philosophy invite  us to feast called God (understood as sweetness of all sweet things, the rasa of life) while the fundamentalist or the Mulla disputes about Him as if God is an object or being and in practice dethrones him to some abstract heaven and himself tries to assumes the role of His secretary.

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