Thursday, July 28, 2005

Religion without God

In his book Dreams of a Final Theory, physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg writes: "Religious liberals are in one sense even farther in spirit from scientists than are fundamentalists and other religious conservatives. At least the conservatives like the scientists tell you that they believe in what they believe because it is true, rather than because it makes them good or happy."

An interesting observation, but doesn't explain why the great majority of scientists are religious liberals, if not outright agnostics or atheists. The answer, presumably, has something to do with the difference between true and True.

Of course, atheistic Weinberg is not endorsing religious conservatism, far from it. But he is not so far off the mark when he says that defining God as "order," or "energy," or "beauty," or "love" is a bit of a cop out. "The more we refine our understanding of God to make the concept plausible,": he says, "the more it seems pointless.".

My book Honey From Stone was subtitled "A Naturalist's Search for God." The word "God" appears only once, in the last paragraph of the book, where I have been talking about Vega, the first star to be photographed, in 1850: "A grainy stuttering of heat on a simulated photograph -- knowledge condensing from a sea of mystery, extending the shore along which we might encounter God. (Can that ancient, much-abused word still have currency in an age of science? Perhaps not. But let it stand, like a distant horizon, like a foreign shore.) Este saber no sabiendo, "This knowing that unknows," is what John of the Cross called it, the knowing that takes place just here on the surface of the eye where Vega and the thought of Vega are one. Photons of radiant energy stream across the light-years, wind-whipped whitecaps of visible light and the longer swells of the infrared, to fall upon the Earth out of the dark night -- denying, revealing, hiding, making plain. I am soaked by starlight, I am blown by a stellar wind. I am bent low in that downpour of revelation."