On God, Science and Man’s Fate
Can Modern Science Save Us?
The reactions of some people who believe in God and Science to the discovery of the so-called “God Particle” offers food for serious reflection. While they are intrigued by the discovery of the subatomic Higgs Boson Particle, which is believed to be the force that sparked the “Big Bang” that created the universe; they hasten to point out that even if the particle turns out to be what its discoverers are claiming, it is just another manifestation of the power of God.
This argument always intrigues me because I continue to marvel at how religion survived the dawn of the age of reason; let alone thrive in our highly scientific age. Thus I turned to religious scientists for answers. Over the years I have had some deep conversations on religion vs. science with Dr. S. Allen Counter – Professor of Biology and medicine at Harvard, and Senior Research Fellow at the Korilinska Institute in Sweden, where the Nobel Prize winners are chosen in these fields.
I first met Dr. Counter when he was a grad student at Case Western Reserve University and I delivered a series of lectures on African and Afro-American history there. We would become friends and have remained so for over 40 years now. He is one of the world’s greatest scientists but, to my amazement, like most Afro-Americans he continues to believe in God, and scoffs at the idea that science can explain the creation of the universe without the agency of God. And he finds my belief that science will eventually explain the mystery of creation, without what I believe is the God myth, laughable.
I concluded God was a fiction when I was 13 years old and living under legalized white supremacy in the South. Listening to all those bible quoting redneck crackers in Florida, I noticed what an astute British observer had also noted over a century earlier when he commented “It is the keepers of slaves who speak most passionately about their God given liberty.”
Of course, Thomas Jefferson would be an excellent example…except that Jefferson was a skeptic on the question of God. I came to believe that if God exists there are a few things that are fairly obvious: he is neither just nor color blind. In fact, the evidence of world history – something I have studied for over half a century now – suggest he is a racist, sexist, blood thirsty madman!
And although I recognize the Good that some religions have done…far greater evil has been done in the name of God. Neither the idea of preordination nor “free will” makes any sense to me. As Albert Einstein said, when the Rabbis questioned his theory about the creation of the world: “God doesn’t shoot craps with the universe!”
Professor Counter, who daily works with the greatest scientists in the world, tells me that among the best scientist he knows half have become deeply religious as a result of their scientific knowledge, and half have become atheist! Once when we were walking across Harvard Yard after I had delivered a lecture there we passed the chapel.
Count and I had not discussed the God question in some time, so he asked, “You still don’t believe in God?” When I said I was still a non-believer he said: “So what do you believe in…science?” He guffawed and said “Well I know a hell of a lot more science than you….and everything I have learned has just made me a better Baptist!”
My conversations with Dr. Counter serve to underscore the inability of science to provide a definitive answer to the riddle of whether God exist. This is because “Does God Exist?” is not a scientific question. Therefore the scientific method can’t address it, because religious claims are based on faith and science is based on observable evidence. This means belief in God is fundamentally irrational. For instance, if one must profess a belief in Jesus Christ in order to enter heaven in the afterlife the question arises: what is to become of millions of good people who are Budihst, Or Muslims,” or Jews, or those who practice polytheistic African religions?
No one has been able to answer these questions in any way that makes sense to me; neither scientist nor theologians. Nor have I heard a credible explanation of why so many evil doers prosper, while the righteous are so often cast asunder. Yet the failure to resolve these differences in the nature of God has led to more oppression, war and mass murder than any other problem in the history of man. It was the major rationale for the enslavement of our African ancestors. However, unlike some atheists, I don’t attack the church in general because many churches perform great service for their followers and people in need who may be un-churched.
There are many occasions in which I have defended the black church in America, such as in my debate with the famous British atheist Christopher Hitchens in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. In another debate sponsored by CEMOTAP, an important Afro-American organization here in New York City, in which the question at issue was: “Has the Bible Been Good for black People?” to every ones astonishment – since I am a well know atheist, and reminded the audience of that fact in my opening remarks – I vigorously defended the bible!
And just a couple of months ago I delivered a “sermon” from the pulpit of “The Church on the Hill,” an AME Zion church in New York titled “On the Heroic Role of the Afro-American Preacher in the Pan-African Liberation Movement. “ The speech was videotaped and will soon find its way to YouTube after proper editing. However some of the arguments I make in that speech are previewed in my essay “Pan-Africanism: Reality or Myth?” on this blog.
Hence although I am a militant atheist, I do recognize the good works of the progressive church. I also recognize that the worst people in America – racist, reactionary right wing Tea Party Republicans – wrap themselves in the pages of the Bible while transforming Jesus Christ from the God of the poor and downtrodden into the God of billionaires who would starve the poor and deny medical care to the sick!
Thus I am forced to wonder where are the righteous preachers willing to denounce this abomination? Why is the theologian Cornell West madder at President Obama – the only friend of the poor who is likely to be president – than these evil blasphemers? I have attacked them more than him….and I don’t even believe that Jesus Christ was a real presence!
For all these reasons and many more I shall remain an atheist…in spite of my unbridled admiration for the good works of many churches. Hence the “God Particle” is of great interest to me because it may serve to finally debunk the God myth. Yet I must admit some ambivalence, because I am not sure we would be better off if there were no true Christians in the world…or if some people didn’t believe their ass was going to burn in hell if they don’t behave themselves!!!!
And while I agree with those who contend that we need more research on ways to apply scientific knowledge to solve pressing human problems right now; the search for the origins of the universe, the grand questions of science, must not be short changed in the process as it was under the Bush Republicans. Which is why this great scientific breakthrough occurred in Europe and not in the USA!
Yet the most critical problems facing the survival of the homo sapien species on this planet are not scientific but political. We already have the technical means to solve many of the critical problems that threaten humanity; it is the political organization of our planet that prevents it.
The failure to see ourselves as one species struggling to survive on a planet with limited resources; the horrible waste of blood, treasure and intellectual resources on endless wars; the greed of ruling classes; racism and ethnic strife; the refusal of governments to deal seriously with the destruction of our natural environments, which the world’s scientists have warned is approaching the point of irreversibility – we can see it reflected in the horrible killer heat waves and devastating storms that are wreaking havoc and claiming lives all over the world. These are disasters of biblical proportions!
These are the things that will lead to our extinction if not corrected. As my grandmother was fond of saying “If man don’t change his ways Almighty God will end our days! The problems that threaten our existence are failings of human character that science is powerless to correct, and God has not seen fit to intervene and save us. Hence in spite of the constant refrain that we hear from politicians and businessmen that scientific and technical education is the key to our salvation: I say it is expanded humanistic education that will save us…or we shall not be saved!
Professor S. Allen Counter: Biologist/Medical Doctor
Dr. Counter escorts first black Miss Sweden to Nobel Prize Ceremony For Obama
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
July 6, 2012