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Science, Theism, and Atheism - Western Views

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There is a trend in the last couple of decades to take findings of Science and theories to make a case for one's theistic or atheistic "beliefs" . This has been true primarily in the western world and its religions.

In fact in 1996 Time Magazine had a cover page titled 'Is God Dead'?

Of late, there has been much more serious discussions that appeared to make a case for existence of God and for atheism.

I plan to have three posts in this regard

  1. A video-link and link to an article making a case for God (Western point of view) - many of the arguments may be applicable to other religions also
  2. Copy and paste of an article refuting the above trying to make a case for atheism
  3. Trend among modern Indians
It is possible to have thoughtful discussions if members refrain from pushing own beliefs or pet theories that have not been substantiated. There are many other threads for this anyway.


Well-known member
Revisiting 'Is God Dead' (2014)

Forty-eight years ago this month, April 8, 1966, to be exact, Time magazine published what may be the most famous cover in its celebrated history. It consisted of a plain three-word question, printed in a bright blood red on an all-black background: Is God Dead?
At the time, believers read the headline as either blasphemy, an apocalyptic announcement or a declaration of war. Atheists and other secularists heard the death knell for all religion. To them, it was confirmation that the relentless march of reason and science had finally crushed the last vestiges of faith, superstition and irrational belief.

As many commentators have pointed out, those who rejoiced in the headline were sorely mistaken. Poll data consistently shows that belief in God is very much alive and well. But hold on: there's a lot more to the story.
The actual article in that Time issue made no dramatic predictions. Nor was the headline intended as a declarative statement about God or belief or anything else, as the question mark should have made perfectly clear. In fact, for a mass market piece on religion, the text is remarkably nuanced, and the reporters were perceptive enough to identify a trend that was about to explode. What the article actually described was a struggle among scholars, religious leaders, and ordinary people alike to rethink and redefine what we mean by God, and it saw that the search was on for new ways to pursue the timeless yearning to know the Infinite. "The new approaches to the problem of God," said Time, may (among other possibilities) "lead to a more realistic, and somewhat more abstract, conception of God."

And that, it seems clear, was exactly what happened. Polls may show that upwards of 90 percent of Americans check the "yes" box when asked if they believe in God. But when they are asked what they mean by God, it turns out that what was dying back in 1966 was God as the cloud-dwelling, white-bearded male overseer in Michelangelo's classic image. As it happens, in subsequent decades that anthropomorphic deity has largely been replaced by a conception of the Divine that's more akin to The Force of Star Wars, or a coherent energy like something physics might describe, or the Brahman of Hinduism -- formless, eternal and transcendent, and yet also imaginable in any number of forms.
The Time reporters were tuned into the zeitgeist. In the spring of 1966, baby boomers were in high school and college. They were the best-educated generation in history, and they also had plenty of spending money, free time, and unprecedented access to information, thanks to postwar advances in communication and technology. They also had free-thinking role models: the beatniks, the hippie vanguard, the early adopters of LSD, the political activists and others for whom "question authority" was a mantra.

And speaking of mantras, the West also had easy access to Eastern wisdom for the first time. The Beats had ushered Zen onto the scene; the Hare Krishnas had become a fixture in be-ins and other counterculture happenings; Yoga andTranscendental Meditation classes were cropping up on campuses; George Harrison had put a sitar riff on "Norwegian Wood" and was about to be mentored byRavi Shankar, setting the stage for the Beatles' historic sojourn in India; and books by interpreters of Hinduism and Buddhism, like Alan Watts and Aldous Huxley, were making the rounds, along with the Bhagavad Gita, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, the East-infused novels of Herman Hesse and J.D. Salinger, and Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi.

All in all, conventional religious beliefs were being called into question as never before, and the search for answers was not confined to the young; large numbers of grownups were also questioning what they had been taught about God. People were discovering new ways of understanding and pursuing spirituality, and adopting new language to discuss it , often eschewing the very word "God" because it was laden with connotations they wished to leave behind.

was onto something with that cover story four dozen years ago, but not exactly what most people who cite it -- and it has been cited thousands of times -- think it was saying. It foresaw a religious revolution marked by the emergence of an independent, pluralistic, non-dogmatic, spirituality whose ramifications we won't fully fathom for quite a while. That process continues, taking on new forms all the time. Probably, the best answer to the question in that long-ago headline should have been: it depends on what you mean by "God" and "dead."

From <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-goldberg/revisiting-times-is-god-d_b_5183667.html>


Well-known member
No, Astrobiology has not made a case for God (2015)

No, Astrobiology has not made a case for God (2015)

Source: http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/astrobiology-made-case-god

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published a piece with the surprising title “Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God.” At least it was surprising to me, because I hadn’t heard the news. The piece argued that new scientific evidence bolsters the claim that the appearance of life in the universe requires a miracle, and it received almost four hundred thousand Facebook shares and likes.

The author of the piece, Eric Metaxas, is not himself a scientist. Rather, he’s a writer and a TV host, and the article was a not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to resurrect the notion of intelligent design, which gives religious arguments the veneer of science—this time in a cosmological context.

Life exists only on Earth and has not been found elsewhere. Moreover, the conditions that caused life to appear here are miraculous. So doesn’t that mean we must have come from a miracle at the hand of God? “Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?” Metaxas writes.

In response, I should begin by noting that the science of “astrobiology”—which, loosely stated, searches for signs of life elsewhere and explores the astrophysical and cosmological conditions that might allow for life to exist in our universe—is still in its infancy. Consensus on many issues has not yet been achieved, and the quality of work in the field varies significantly.

Still, what we have unequivocally learned over the past decade or so is, to paraphrase Hamlet, that there are many more things in Heaven and Earth than were dreamt of in our imagination. The opportunities for the development of life in various systems, and the possible forms of life we know of, have exploded. Metaxas believes that our increased understanding of our evolutionary history implies that the origin of life on Earth is increasingly inexplicable. But the evidence seems to point in the opposite direction.

Let’s start with the first point raised in the Journal piece, which is that the more we have learned about our own evolutionary history on Earth, the more we appreciate the many different factors that may have been important in allowing that evolution. For example, we know that had Jupiter, with its massive gravity, not existed, asteroids and comets would have bombarded Earth throughout its history, disrupting the stable evolutionary development of multicellular organisms. Moreover, we know that if our sun were not in the outer part of our galaxy, life as it exists would have been impossible, both because of the impact of harmful cosmic radiation and because of gravitational perturbations that might easily have disrupted stable planetary orbits. The moon formed during a collision involving the nascent Earth, giving the planet the tilt that allows for seasonal variations and tides. Earth exists in the habitable zone where liquid water is possible. Liquid water was possible only on early Earth because of the high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

By considering each of these many factors and imagining the probability of each separately, one can imagine that the combination is statistically very unlikely, or impossible. “Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart,” Metaxas writes. “The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.”

Such a claim is fraught with statistical perils, however. The first is a familiar mistake of elaborating all the factors responsible for some specific event and calculating all the probabilities as if they were independent. In order for me to be writing this piece at this precise instant on this airplane, having done all the things I’ve done today, consider all the factors that had to be “just right”: I had to find myself in San Francisco, among all the cities in the world; the sequence of stoplights that my taxi had to traverse had to be just right, in order to get me to the airport when I did; the airport security screener had to experience a similar set of coincidences in order to be there when I needed her; same goes for the pilot. It would be easy for me to derive a set of probabilities that, when multiplied together, would produce a number so small that it would be statistically impossible for me to be here now writing.

This approach, of course, involves many fallacies. It is clear that many routes could have led to the same result. Similarly, when we consider the evolution of life on Earth, we have to ask what factors could have been different and still allowed for intelligent life. Consider a wild example, involving the asteroid that hit Earth sixty-five million years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs and a host of other species, and probably allowing an evolutionary niche for mammals to begin to flourish. This was a bad thing for life in general, but a good thing for us. Had that not happened, however, maybe giant intelligent reptiles would be arguing about the existence of God today.

An even more severe problem in Metaxas’s argument is the assumption of randomness, namely that physical processes do not naturally drive a system toward a certain state. This is the most common error among those who argue that, given the complexity of life on Earth, evolution is as implausible as a tornado ravaging a junkyard and producing a 747. The latter event is, indeed, essentially statistically impossible. However, we now understand that the process of natural selection implies that evolution is anything but random. Is it a miracle that the planet produced animals as complex as, and yet as different from, humans, dolphins, and cicadas, each so well “designed” for its own habitat? No. Natural selection drives systems in a specific direction, and the remarkable diversity of species on Earth today, each evolved for evolutionary success in a different environment, is one result.

Non-randomness is now understood to have a likely impact on the first appearance of life. For example, new insights into geophysical and chemical processes in extreme environments suggest that early Earth naturally favored the production of relatively large organic molecules. Moreover, we have continued to find in space the more sophisticated components associated with the evolution of life on Earth. The build-up of these complex precursors of life is, therefore, far from purely random. Furthermore, a recent interesting, if speculative, proposal suggests that, when driven by an external source of energy, matter will rearrange itself to dissipate this energy most efficiently. Living systems allow greater dissipation, which means that the laws of physics might suggest that life is, in some sense, inevitable.

Beyond this, two exciting scientific advances in recent decades have identified new ways in which life can evolve, and new locales where it can do so. First, we have discovered a surprisingly diverse group of new solar systems. And we now understand that, even in our solar system, there are a host of possible sites where life might have evolved that were long considered unlikely. Moons of Jupiter and Saturn may have vast oceans of liquid water, underneath ice covers, which are heated by gravitational tidal friction associated with their giant hosts. On Earth, scientists have had to revise old rules about where and how life can survive. The discovery of so-called extremophiles—life forms that can live in extreme acids, or under extreme heat or pressure—has vastly increased the set of conditions under which we can imagine life existing on this planet.
Another point raised in the Journal piece involves what appears to Metaxas as the impossible fine tuning of the constants of nature in order for us to exist. As Metaxas puts it:

Astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces—gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the “strong” and “weak” nuclear forces—were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction—by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000—then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

It is true that a small change in the strength of the four known forces (but nowhere near as small as Metaxas argues) would imply that stable protons and neutrons, the basis of atomic nuclei, might not exist. (The universe, however, would—a rather large error in the Metaxas piece.) This is old news and, while it’s an interesting fact, it certainly does not require a deity.

Once again, it likely confuses cause and effect. The constants of the universe indeed allow the existence of life as we know it. However, it is much more likely that life is tuned to the universe rather than the other way around. We survive on Earth in part because Earth’s gravity keeps us from floating off. But the strength of gravity selects a planet like Earth, among the variety of planets, to be habitable for life forms like us. Reversing the sense of cause and effect in this statement, as Metaxas does in cosmology, is like saying that it’s a miracle that everyone’s legs are exactly long enough to reach the ground.

In fact, one of the most severe apparent fine tunings often referred to by creationists like Metaxas is that of the so-called cosmological constant, the energy of empty space that has recently been discovered to be causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate over time. It remains one of the biggest mysteries in physics, as it appears to be over a hundred and twenty orders of magnitude smaller than our theories suggest it could be. And if it were as large as the theories suggest it should be, then galaxies, stars, and planets would never have formed.

Is this a clear example of design? Of course not. If it were zero, which would be “natural” from a theoretical perspective, the universe would in fact be more hospitable to life. If the cosmological constant were different, perhaps vastly different kinds of life might have arisen. Moreover, arguing that God exists because many cosmic mysteries remain is intellectually lazy in the extreme. The more we understand the universe, the more remarkable it appears to be. Exploring how this remarkable diversity can arise by potentially simple laws has been one of the most successful, and intellectually beautiful, efforts in human history.

The “null hypothesis” is most often the default hypothesis in science. We reject the null hypothesis (namely that what we think is significant is simply an accident, or noise) only when we have clear evidence to back it up. Or, as Carl Sagan often repeated, extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence. Surely the God hypothesis—that some invisible intelligence that must be eternal (i.e. not designed) and not subject to the laws of nature created and designed the entire universe for the benefit of one particular species on one particular planet at one particular time—is extraordinary in the extreme.

My colleagues and I are optimistic that evidence for life, either elsewhere in our solar system or elsewhere in the universe, may be discovered in the coming decades. Of course, we can’t be certain, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Whether intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is even more uncertain, but nothing we have discovered suggests that the possibility of life requires something supernatural.
In the meantime, both believers and non-believers are done a huge disservice when people promulgate biased and disingenuous claims that distort what current science implies and can imply about the universe. In a society in which the understanding of science is already marginal—and where, at the same time, the continued health of modern society as it meets the challenges of the twenty-first century depends, in some sense, on our ability to utilize our scientific knowledge, both to create new technologies and to help guide rational public policies—this is the last thing we need.

From <http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/astrobiology-made-case-god>


Well-known member
Indian reaction to all these

Our own people, following the footsteps of western approaches, have taken the liberty to propagate own கை சரக்கு manufactured in their imagination with purported alignment of their own limited understanding of science along with liberal attribution of baseless thoughts to great thinkers such as Sri Sankara. Sometimes it is accompanied with claims of alignment with Veda with inappropriate quotes from our knowledge scriptures (B. Gita, Upanishad etc) as well.

It is as if praising Sri Sankara tantamount to asserting own expertise. Aided with availability of blogs and forums there is a wealth of wrong ideas that have been created in the last few years. One has to only do a google search to come across many such blogs and posts.

There have been few people who have some formal background in Science like Deepak Chopra though his understanding of Physics, being not his primary subject, is questionable. He has been challenged many times during his lectures by prominent professors of Physics. It has not stopped him from furthering his agenda of seeking alignment with Science for his understanding of Vedanta.

He certainly has wrong understanding of Vedanta at many levels having never learnt anything properly in a formal setting. His main teacher was Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was branding his own ideas and was successful in attracting many stars. All this lack of formal background has not prevented him from giving his own views all the while monetizing these views in a major way like his Guru. He has a major following that includes famous stars of the western world and they have accepted him as their Guru!

The internet tools have provided an opportunity to voice own opinions though they are not trained properly in Physics as well as our knowledge scriptures.

To discern real analysis from such imaginations one must have the following background to be taken seriously:

1. Formal and advanced training in Science is a minimum prerequisite especially in the age of Google and other blogs propagating mis-information. For example if one is not able to do Problems in advanced Physics (something that is not emphasized in most Indian schools and colleges) the knowledge is near zero in my view. The reason is that there is a case to be made that the Scientific view of reality is that it is all Mathematics. There is a wonderful book by a professor of Physics at MIT who makes a compelling case for this view. Name of the book is "Our mathematical Universe"

2. Formal training in Vedanta and such topics requires serious self discipline, qualified teacher and working knowledge of Sanskrit so that one is advanced enough to learn from original scriptures including Sri sankara's commentaries. These ideas that have survived debates and attacks over millenniums are indeed easy to understand with proper background. Taking piece part with literal translations is not helpful except to support one's imaginations. In order to come up with own ideas is silly when one has not taken the time to learn what is available that has stood the test of time.

I will post in the future why this trend of trying to use Science to validate our knowledge scriptures is fundamentally flawed


Well-known member
'making a case for God' sounds funny.It is a matter of faith
Welcome to the forum!

It is a matter of faith for most followers of world religions including Hindu religions.

But our scriptures (upanishads) that form the foundation for many of our religious practices do not teach one to rely on faith but focus on understanding Isvara. Our scriptures make an excellent case for Isvara!
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