Monday, March 20, 2006

God in the details

Isaac Newton was a believer.

One of the many lines of inquiry he pursued in a life devoted to pretty much nothing else but scientific inquiry---except for the period when he was head of the Mint and he carved out some time for catching, torturing, and executing counterfeiters---was proof for the existence of God.

He also went mad.


Both episodes may have been brought on by mercury poisoning as a result from his work in alchemy.

And he used to poke needles into his eye sockets when he was working on his theories of light and optics.

At any rate, he believed in God.

So you would expect that there might be a long tradition, in England, at least, of mutal respect between science and religion.

But Newton's personal faith didn't stop his adherents from using his theories to argue for a materialist and mechanistic universe independent of any god, and then there was that whole Darwin thing and the business between Thomas Huxley and Soapy Sam Wilberforce.

Still, science and religion don't have to be at odds and over at Preemptive Karma, Carla reports that a scientist has won this year's Templeton Prize, a 1.4 million dollar award for "progress or research in spiritual matters."

Five of the last six winners of the Templeton Prize have been scientists.

This year's winner is John D. Barrow, a professor of mathematical sciences at the University of Cambridge, which I always thought was called Cambridge University. Barrow's field is cosmology and he's the author and co-author of many books, including The Universe That Discovered Itself, The Artful Universe, and The Anthropic Cosmological Principle.

Now, here's a question for the scientists who stop by my laboratory.

I thought the anthropic principle was sort of the deist's version of intelligent design and not taken seriously. Am I wrong? How wrong?

Dr Thorsett? Dr Myers? Dr Carroll? Dr Lynch? Mr Zivkovic? Pop Mannion?

What say you?

One of Sean Carroll's co-blogging colleagues at Cosmic Variance, Mark Trodden, thinks very highly of John Barrow but wishes he hadn't accepted the award. Writes Dr Trodden:

But the problem is that when the odd well-known scientist allows their name to be associated with ideas such as those pursued by the Templeton Foundation, it lends credence to non-scientific ideas, and ultimately does a disservice to science and the scientific method.


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